MANOR, Texas (KXAN)—Students at the predominately Black K-12 charter school, The Texas Empowerment Academy, are spending some of their final days on their current Austin campus.
It’s moving to accommodate more students who some argue won’t get an educational experience the school offers anywhere else.
This is a big moment for the school, as the project has been years in the making.
Kristoffer Lands has sent all five of his kids to the Texas Empowerment Academy. He joined KXAN on an intimate tour of the building in Manor still under construction in July.
His youngest son, Hezekiah, an 11th-grader, will get to go to school on the new campus.
“I need my kids to see people that look like them,” Lands said. “I need them to be in a in an environment where they can look up and see folks that they can relate with.”
Lands said his kids get a sense of belonging at the academy, and that it makes the school feel like family.
“Like old school, teachers call parents, and look, that doesn’t happen often and only has to happen once,” Lands said with a slight laugh.
The academy was founded more than 20 years ago with the specific intention of serving primarily Black students who its founders said were, “written off as un-educatable,” according to the school’s website.
It’s free to attend.
“African American students score lowest in every category of state of Texas, and it doesn’t seem like anybody is doing anything about it,” Texas Empowerment Academy Superintendent David Nowlin said.
Nowlin is one of the academy’s founding members. He said many of its students over the years come from families who live below the poverty line. Opportunities for some, have been limited.
“The size of the school…everybody was scared to deal with us,” Nowlin said.
Growing over the years has been work, but now the academy offers a broad curriculum that includes multicultural studies, science, engineering and tech.
Nowlin said they have a 100% graduation and college enrollment rate—95% of its students taking college classes. This is key tool in measuring the Texas Empowerment Academy’s success, Nowlin said.
The first-of-its kind school in the Austin area, started out with two separate campuses for its K-12 students. By 2024 will be a combined $31 million campus thanks to a multi-year grant and donations.
“It’s it’s saying we’re investing reinvesting in an in the black community in Austin, right?” Chief Development Officer Llyas Salahud-din said.
While the band is one of the school’s shining extra curriculars, sports aren’t as competitive. However, the new campus in Manor could change that with a new football field and more space.
Nonetheless, the academy is about legacy for its staff and students.
“Teachers take the time and they put you to your limit and farther than your limit,” Hezekiah said. “So, they help you get to certain levels that you that you didn’t know you could get to by yourself.”
Lands credits the empowerment academy with helping his kids land scholarships to go to college. And he feels the new facility will continue to help create those type of opportunities.
“They were able to choose what they wanted to do, versus just taking whatever was handed in their lap,” Lands said.
Nowlin said 50% of its staff are returning students, which he believes helps its students succeed, while also reinvesting in the Black community in Austin.
The school’s new campus is where many of its students now live.