By Mike Klein
Magic Johnson’s parents never earned high school diplomas. However, they made it clear to all ten children that failure to graduate from high school was not an option. “They were on top of us every day,” Johnson said in Atlanta. Today five of his six sisters are Michigan public school teachers and the sixth is an elementary school principal. “I am looking at all these educators in my family after my mom and my dad finished seventh or eighth grade.”
Magic Johnson is one of the most recognizable people in the world. Famous initially for his ability to do things with a basketball that mere ticketholders could only imagine. Famous now because in life after basketball Johnson has created businesses that employ thousands of primarily inner city people, led campaigns for AIDS research and he has invested time, money and two decades into the idea young people can be given the tools and inspiration to graduate from high school, pursue more learning and become successful adults.
Oh, yes, Johnson recently became part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. But it was books not baseball or basketball that brought Johnson to Atlanta this week. Johnson said his new program — Bridgescape Learning Centers, focused on dropout prevention and recovery – will become a resource at Provost Academy Georgia, the state’s newest online high school. Provost’s parent is Edison Learning, a New York-based digital learning company that has schools nationwide. Provost is expected to open this fall.
Bridgescape will focus on young men and women who have quit or are at-risk to quit school. It will provide a path to a high school diploma through a state-approved online high school. Bridgescape will be unique from other good programs that offer GEDs – general equivalency diplomas — that are not real high school diplomas. The Provost Academy – Bridgescape model is blended learning – digital combined with individual, face-to-face instruction, computers, internet access and personalized lesson plans.
The Magic Johnson Enterprise partnership with Edison Learning was announced last fall. Bridgescape Learning Centers have already opened in several Ohio cities. Provost Academy Georgia is an expansion. There could be as many as seven statewide learning centers but their locations are a work in progress.
Provost Academy Georgia was scheduled to open last fall as Georgia’s first fully accredited online high school. However, it got caught in the state charter schools commission controversy so the opening was delayed. Provost will announce when it is ready to accept student applications.
Magic Johnson’s financial worth is estimated at $500 million. He does many things with his time and money — sports team ownership, broadcasting, theaters — but this is what Johnson does by choice. For 20 years the Magic Johnson Foundation has proposed and funded possible solutions to challenges faced by America’s urban communities, and especially its youth.
Education is a big part of the Magic Johnson Foundation focus. Nationally one-in-three students – with high percentages in urban communities — will quit high school. Some 1.2 million students drop out every year, 7,000 leave school every day, one quits every 26 seconds. Inner city minority youth are a big part of that drop out picture.
“A huge number of African American kids are dropping out,” Johnson said. “I want to make sure we bring them back into our program. We know that, unfortunately, if you don’t have a high school diploma normally our kids turn to crime. We’ve got to quit losing kids to the jail system.”
State school superintendent John Barge not only attended Johnson’s news conference, he was an enthusiastic participant. “When we start talking about recovering the dropouts, this is probably one of the few opportunities children have to come back and earn a high school diploma,” Barge said. It is not lost here that Barge enthusiastically encouraged an idea that is operating outside the usual state path.
Georgia recently announced that last year it had a 67% on-time high school graduation rate. “That means over the last several years we have hundreds of thousands of people without a high school diploma,” Barge said. “We know without a high school diploma there is no hope for these children.”
Earvin Johnson Sr. and his wife Christine moved from Mississippi to Michigan because there were jobs in the auto plants that did not require a high school education. “Today that’s not the case,’ said their famous son. “Today you have to have a diploma to get a job at those same plants.” Johnson grew up with nine brothers and sisters. His mother worked as a custodian. His father had a shift at General Motors.
Magic Johnson was an absolute basketball prodigy in Lansing, Michigan. It was obvious to anyone who watched that there was something special about the 6-foot-9 young man who saw the basketball court as a canvas. His job was to make things happen on the canvas that folks had not seen before. From Michigan State to the NBA to life after basketball, Johnson continues to make things happen.
The Magic Johnson Foundation has funded 18 urban community technology centers, including one in Atlanta. It has funded hundreds of college scholarships, including help for students who attend several Georgia public universities, along with Morehouse and Spelman. The Foundation has donated millions of dollars to online learning programs, and the hardware and software projects required to support learning.
“My whole life and the mission of the Magic Johnson Foundation has been urban America,” Johnson said. “I came up through the neighborhood. You’ve got somebody who knows, who understands. I’m not going to let the kids have excuses. All of us have come together because we have one common goal, how do we graduate these young people who have dropped out, who maybe learn in a different way? How do we make it better for young people? They must graduate from high school.”
This is what Magic Johnson does, simply because he can and someone should.