Held in April, the second annual TedxCharleston featured a total of 14 speakers, among them Benjamin Navarro, the CEO of Sherman Financial Group. Navarro’s company founded the Meeting Street Academy, a college preparation program for low income students.
The theme of this year’s TedxCharleston event was “Ripple Effect.” Speakers at the conference focused on topics that seem small in scope but that can have a tremendous impact. Along with Benjamin Navarro, speakers at the conference included Laura Ball, a musician who founded UNED!TED Interdisciplinary Arts Concert Series, and Heather Collins, a cognitive neuroscientist who is dedicated to bringing scientific thought to the public. Topics at this year’s Tedx ran the gamut from healthcare to education.
The Meeting Street Academy
The conference gave Benjamin Navarro the opportunity to shine a light on the Meeting Street Academy. His company, Sherman Financial Group, founded the school in 2008. It opened its doors to about 45 preschoolers in South Carolina in August of that year. The school’s enrollment has more than doubled since it opened and the plan is for it to add one grade a year as its students advance.
Four years after welcoming its first class, Meeting Street Academy opened a second school, in Spartanburg, SC. The goal of both schools is to increase the number of students who graduate from high school in the state.
It might seem that the Meeting Street Academy faces an uphill battle. South Carolina’s school system is regularly ranked among the worst in the US. A staggeringly high percentage of adults in the state are illiterate – 15 percent.
At the Tedx conference, Navarro was able to reveal the the mission of the Meeting Street Academy. The school’s goal fit in well with the theme of the conference: one small action, in this case, opening a school for about 50 preschoolers, can have a dramatic effect on the future of the state of South Carolina. Unlike other schools, Meeting Street provides a year-round education. It also offers an extended school day and several extracurricular activities.
Although the Academy is a private school, the cost to parents is very low. Parents pay about $600 per year, even though the cost of educating one child is $12,500 each year. The remaining amount is covered by grants and donations from private donors.
Although Navarro usually declines to answer questions about the school, preferring to let the actions of the Academy speak for themselves, his Tedx talk gave him the opportunity to really shine a light on the work the school is doing and on the impact poverty is having on the state’s children.
About half of the students in South Carolina come from low income households. More than 50 percent, about 395,033 students, qualify for the free or reduced price lunch program, he pointed out. “The system is failing underprivileged students,” he stated, “it’s time to change it.
Navarro and the rest of the Meeting Street Academy team believe that all children deserve to have hopes and dreams, not just the kids who come from more well-off families. During his talk, he stressed that it “isn’t about race, it’s not about income. It’s about our kids and giving them the chance they deserve. Everyone should have the chance to attain their version of the American dream.”
Although the talks at TedxCharleston covered a range of topics, education was a common theme. Another speaker who focused on education and the importance of reaching out to underserved students was Andrew Roskill. Roskill is the founder and CEO of BiblioLabs, an organization that published materials in digital formats.
In Roskill’s eyes, digital access to materials is an essential part of the solution to the problems facing education today. BiblioLabs has created a web interface that provides cost effective, easy access to both schools and students. Through the program, students can find thousands of pieces of primary source material, ranging from books, documents, sounds and images, that would not be available otherwise.
Jill Chalsty also focused on education during her talk at the Tedx event. Chalsty is conflict resolution expert who founded the Community for Education Foundation and the Overcoming Obstacles Life Skills program. Like Navarro, Chalsty has a simple suggestion that can have a major impact. In her talk, she argued that teaching life skills, such as decision making, goal setting, and communication, would enable students to succeed in school and in life.
The idea for Overcoming Obstacles came from Chalsty’s own life. She was bullied as a teenager, after previously being a member of the in crowd. During her talk, she stated, “once the bullying started, everybody turned on me. I wish that when I was in school, I had learned how to ask for help.” Her program has so far reached students in Charleston, SC, Jersey City, NJ, Los Angeles, CA and New York City.
The second annual TedxCharleston lived up to the TED conference slogan: “ideas worth spreading.” The event’s speakers, from Benjamin Navarro to Jill Chalsty, each offered ideas that can create a ripple effect and are worth spreading around.