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Letter Box


Letters from an alumnus about SEED Public Charter School

May 1, 2002

The SEED School has always been about opportunity — the opportunity for inner-city kids to receive the quality education that all children deserve. Sometimes, this type of opportunity requires leaving the classroom.

On a spectacular day in March, an entire class of novice SEED skiers had the opportunity to ski a Pennsylvania mountainside. As they graduated from the bunny slope and ascended the mountain, these 90 SEED School students blended into the crowd, happily embracing this new challenge, this new environment.

Weeks before, older students had regaled younger ones with stories from past ski trips. All the students were on their best behavior in anticipation of the opportunity. Those who earned their way onto the overnight ski trip experienced something very few kids from central Washington, D.C., ever get to try. Nationally, fewer than 1 percent of all downhill skiing lift tickets are sold to African-Americans. If our students didn't feel out of place on the slopes, they probably noticed the extra attention at the resort hotel. But their exemplary behavior quickly won over the hotel's staff and guests. These teenagers weren't the only ones enriched by new opportunities that weekend.

The SEED School gives students the opportunity to experience classical culture as well. Last spring, the Harman Family Foundation offered to host a group of SEED School students at the Shakespeare Theatre's Free-For-All production of King Lear. With only a few weeks' notice, SEED School Assistant Head John Ciccone worked with teachers to prepare SEED students so that could take the fullest advantage of this unique opportunity. Students studied Shakespearean drama and Elizabethan English, as well as theater etiquette.

Barbara Harman, a SEED Foundation director, sat with the students during the show. She was impressed with their focus, their decorum, and their comprehension of this difficult work. Despite the vast cultural and historical divide, the students understood and identified with the characters on stage. They flinched at the violence, grieved over betrayals, and laughed at the off-color jokes. Perhaps most important, the kids enjoyed the show. For them, Shakespeare became more than just a name in their English textbook, and going to the theater ceased to be an event for the privileged. Theater, like skiing, can be an opportunity to be part of the larger world, to be part of a greater community.

At the heart of SEED's mission is opportunity-the opportunity for children who come from challenging environments to participate in all the richness that life has to offer. These opportunities help them grow. Growing up is greater than any single academic subject we teach, and larger than the safe environment SEED provides. SEED is about opening doors for these children and helping them step out into the wide world. These cultural and recreational events teach SEED students how to embrace new opportunities. As they tackle new challenges, they learn that opportunities are there for the taking. When they take advantage of what the world has to offer, they break down boundaries and take control of their lives. Each new experience, each new grain of knowledge prepares them to succeed at SEED, at college, and beyond.

Happy Spring!

Rajiv Vinnakota ’93
Washington, D.C.

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November 19

On Monday, September 10, the school whistles blew to start the first day of school at the SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C. We looked on with pride as more than 150 students from the District ate breakfast and started classes. This is SEED's fourth school year and the first full year in our newly constructed campus in the southeast quadrant of the city. We sat in on classes, chatted with teachers, greeted the returning students, and welcomed the new class of 50 seventh graders. For all of us, this was a watershed – a new school year in our own buildings on our new campus.

The next day, the second day of school, the world changed. Ms. Biard, the head of school, and Dr. Becker, the school counselor, spent the day going from classroom to classroom – talking with teachers and students about the tragedy, sharing a sense of shock and sadness, and reaffirming strength and hope with every adult and every child.

The SEED family is not unscathed. One student's grandmother was killed at the Pentagon. Some SEED parents are postal workers, placed unwittingly on a new front line. All of us have been affected both directly and indirectly. Our perspectives have been challenged, and our hearts torn.

Every one of us has been affected, but fundamentally SEED has not changed. We believe that when calamity strikes, a community rediscovers its fundamental nature by caring for children. In a time of crisis, core values and beliefs are the foundation for reaffirming a commitment to educating kids. In peace or war, boom or bust, our children deserve nothing less from us than attention, consideration, help, and respect.

SEED's mission has not changed. SEED provides a stable, nurturing environment in which inner-city children can live, learn, thrive, and succeed. In the week following September 11, the SEED Public Charter School was the only public school in Washington, D.C., that remained open. More than 95 percent of our students were in school. They went to class; they lived in the residence hall. SEED teachers were stalwart, dealing with their own fears and uncertainty while helping the children understand, grieve, and adjust. The staff performed the same daily miracles they have accomplished since opening day in 1998. They coordinated schedules, arranged food service, and facilitated the learning process.

SEED's activities have not changed. Every day, SEED students get three square meals, a full curriculum of academic lessons, recreational time, study hall, and a full night's sleep. Every day our teachers impart a little more knowledge and create a little more hope. Every day SEED students take small steps toward higher education, self-sufficiency and lives of purpose and meaning. Every day the SEED staff demonstrates that all of us make a difference, be it ever so small, in the lives of children who don't yet know their own potential.

SEED's plans have not changed. The construction of the second dormitory was initiated in August, and continues on schedule and on budget. The school is already looking toward fall of 2002, when a new class of more than 50 seventh graders will become a part of the SEED family. Fundraising efforts for the future student services center are continuing.

We have all been tested, and we have passed - as students, staff, instructors, administrators, parents, and partners. In the words of Nancy Carstedt, executive director of the Chicago Children's Choir, we have "come up taller."

In 1997 the two of us left our jobs in the business sector to develop the vision for SEED. In the five years since then we have seen challenges and hardships, successes and setbacks. For us, there is no greater privilege than to continue doing the work that we love.

Thanksgiving is only a few days away; the holidays are not far off. We give heartfelt thanks for the opportunity to apply our efforts to the cause of inner-city education. We both take great pride in our work; we are honored to share that sense of pride and determination with everyone at SEED and to draw tremendous strength from the dignity and resolve everyone has shared with us. We thank the vast network of individuals that supports SEED: donors, legislators, educators, volunteers, family, and friends.

Day in and day out, SEED students learn and grow. Day in and day out, we learn and grow with them. The path sometimes wanders and the map must be updated, but the vision and the destination are fixed.

On behalf of the entire SEED family, we want to wish you Happy Thanksgiving. May you look towards the holidays and the New Year with hope and joy.

Rajiv Vinnakota ’93
Washington, D.C.

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