When educator Natasha Campbell wrote a letter about her charter school to Ellen DeGeneres last year, she never dreamed she’d get a reply.
Campbell wanted the comedian and talk-show host to know that she and the teaching staff at the school she founded in 2009 had had great success in encouraging inner-city youth to attend college. But Campbell never imagined she’d end up on the show. And she sure didn’t expect that Ellen would fly the entire senior class at Summit Academy Charter School from New York to Los Angeles to present the kids with college scholarships funded by Walmart.
That is, however, exactly what happened after DeGeneres got the message from Campbell, a Capella University doctoral student. “Ellen is probably the kindest person you’ll ever meet in life,” Campbell says. “The person you see on TV is the same person you meet when the cameras are off. She embodies the characteristics that can make this world a better place—being kind and recognizing the contributions of the people around you.”
A Goal to Do More
Campbell’s most significant contribution to education to date is establishing Summit Academy, which currently serves 328 middle- and high-schoolers in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn in New York City. Once known as a hotbed of crack cocaine trafficking, the neighborhood can be tough on kids—many drop out of high school, Campbell says, and less than 5% of those who do finish will end up going to college. (In contrast, she adds, more than 90% of the students in Summit Academy’s first graduating class have gone on to a college or university.)
Campbell initially intended to be a doctor. But a brief experience working with inner city youth changed the direction of her career. “I was really frustrated with the quality of education that the kids were receiving and felt like more should be done to help them,” Campbell says.
She eventually applied for and obtained a fellowship aimed at individuals who want to start urban charter schools. In 2009, after laying the financial and structural groundwork, she launched Summit Academy.
Putting Learning into Practice
Campbell serves as the academy’s executive director. But when the school went through several principals a few years ago, Campbell decided she needed to know more about the nuts and bolts of education. In 2014, she enrolled in Capella’s EdD in Curriculum and Instruction program, which she’s on course to complete this year.
“The flexibility of Capella’s programs was what really attracted me,” she says. “It’s been amazing. I’ve had nothing but great experiences with my advisor and with everyone that I’ve met. And the pace is good for someone who is working. As a person who has a full-time job, you have to be able to fit in your coursework around it.”
What’s more, Campbell has found several ways to apply her learning immediately. She has shared with her leadership team several of the books she read for courses, and she has used evaluations from the courses as a guide for shaping her own staff, giving instructors personality tests to figure out how to work better with Summit employees.
Getting on TV with Ellen was an amazing experience, Campbell says. And seeing the reaction of students when they got free college scholarships was also great, she notes. But in the end, Campbell wants to have as big an impact as possible. “My overall goal is to rewrite the history of our community,” she says. “This area, Red Hook, used to be a community that people were proud of. I want us to be that again.”
Learn more about Capella’s Doctor of Education (EdD) program.