Parents Discover A Growing, Thriving Village at ITAV and VLA

Tagged: education, Family, nciu, Parent Ambassadors, rc, RiverCity, school, socialjustice, special needs, VLA, vlacademy,

8 minutes, 16 seconds

In 2012, Dawn Wilson attended a gala hosted by ITAV’s Village Leadership Academy for their World Scholars Program (WSP). At the time she a had four-year-old son, Zahir, and was pregnant with her second son, Ali.


The event was sophisticated yet practical, but what stood out to Dawn were the VLA students on the panel. She found their presentation skills impressive, and she immediately knew she wanted to send her son, Zahir, to this elementary school.


Zahir would go on to graduate from VLA in 2021, and Ali is currently an 11-year-old 5th grader.


Dawn believes ITAV has had a deep, and meaningful effect on both of her son’s development.“When my children are in circles outside of ITAV, they seem to continuously have a positive impact on the energy in those circles. Their ITAV experience ignited a spark in them that continues to glow and grow.”


The Search for the Perfect Fit


As a parent, the journey of finding the right educational environment for your children can be daunting, especially when your child has special needs.


This was the challenge Stephen and Essence Keys faced with their eldest. He was a NICU baby, a fighter from the start, but his early days were marked by struggles and delays. “I was determined to give him every opportunity to thrive,” Essence said.


Their journey led the Keys to research various daycares, but none felt right until they discovered ITAV. “I remember the day we walked into ITAV; it felt like coming home. The warmth and understanding we received were unparalleled. The staff had experience with children with special needs, and their patience and willingness to address my myriad of concerns as a parent were comforting.”


A Journey of Growth and Discovery at ITAV and VLA


Eventually, the Keys enrolled their second son at ITAV-River City, agreeing it wasn’t just a daycare but a community that embraced them. They felt heard as parents because ITAV took their concerns seriously.


“I remember advocating for purified water for the children, and ITAV was quick to accommodate. They installed water filters within a month,” Essence said. This responsiveness and willingness to adapt were what set ITAV apart.


After two years, their oldest son finished pre-K and they enrolled him in VLA Elementary School, to continue his journey of growth and discovery.


“The curriculum was rigorous, and the focus on leadership and identity was something I hadn’t seen elsewhere,” said Stephen.


Their son, who had been in early intervention, thrived beyond their expectations. “He was not just keeping up; he was excelling, getting straight A’s, and even joining the chess team- a game he learned much earlier than I did,” Stephen said with enthusiasm.


A Thriving Environment


According to Dawn, VLA is solving the problem of lackluster student performance that she’s seen in many other schools with irrelevant curricula.


“I strongly believe ITAV’s curriculum is relevant to our students, their community, and the world at large. ITAV creates an environment in which greatness, excellence, and creativity can thrive,” said Dawn.




A Community That Grows With You


Dawn admits her hopes were high when her children started at VLA, and as a community, they have delivered.


“While I’m not surprised, I am pleased that VLA/ITAV has exceeded my expectations. The ITAV team’s growth shows that the leadership principles taught to the students are being applied and demonstrated,” Dawn said.


What stood out to the Keys the most was how ITAV and VLA didn’t just educate their two children; they cultivated education in the entire family.


“They pulled out a side of me I didn’t know existed. I became more involved, and more invested in not just my children’s education but in the community we had become a part of. We became parent ambassadors, a role that allows us to support other parents and contribute to the community that has given us so much,” said Essence.


Memorable moments abound at ITAV


Parents love to tell ITAV moment stories, Dawn recalled an instance when her son, who wants to be an entrepreneur questioned their special guest.


A corporate representative from a major fast-food chain visited her son’s classroom when he was in 2nd grade for Career Day. “In response to one of the speaker’s question, my son raised his hand and asked, ‘Why does [your restaurants] sell food loaded with preservatives that kill our community?’ Astonished, she asked if she could hire him for their marketing team,” Dawn said.


For Essence, a memorable moment was seeing her son on stage in VLA’s spring production. “I’m a theater person,” said an excited Essence, “so when I saw my son performing as a munchkin in The Wiz, I felt like I was at a buffet. I already had everything I needed on my plate, but then it’s like, they have that too?”


A Message to Parents Considering ITAV/ VLA


To any parent on the fence about ITAV or VLA, Stephen Keys says, “If you want your child to be in a place where they are not just taught but are understood, valued, and nurtured; if you want them to learn about their heritage, and who they are and where they can go, then ITAV and VLA are the places for your child.”


Dawn would like to extend a warm welcome to any parent or student considering the Village. “As a parent or guardian, you are in the right place if you’re open to Black excellence, transformation, and a growth mindset. Various facets of your child’s transformation from mediocrity to excellence will be evident at ITAV.”

The Keys Family
it takes a village