“During the progressive education movement, laboratory high schools evolved from model schools that were part of the core teacher training curriculum at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). These laboratory schools were at the vanguard of the accreditation battle, participated in national curriculum studies, and boasted high graduation and college entrance rates. Led by well-educated, reform-minded African Americans who molded their own approaches to teaching and curriculum and were grounded in sound progressive educational theory, these HBCU lab high schools represented privileged educational experiences. Yet, this collective effort of high-achieving Black lab schools has been overlooked by historians.”
In the Spring of 1999, my dad told me that I would be switching schools. My brothers, cousins, friends, and everyone that I knew all attended and graduated from the Grambling State University Laboratory Magnet Schools.
The heart of Grambling State University is the small town of Grambling, Louisiana - a small and insulated community tucked away in Northeast Louisiana . We were a village of middle class black families who thrived off of one another. There was not a black side of town or a forbidden section. The entire town was ours. This rural town provided us with a foundational lesson that I realized many of my urban counterparts learned later in life -- you are never required to justify your blackness.
At the time, many parents flocked to send their children to the lab schools. We were nested directly on campus which allowed many of the education majors to work in our classrooms. The ecosystem fostered an environment with well-meaning educators and involved parents. Black history wasn't taught solely in February, but incorporated year round. You were reminded in small ways that you were valuable. We were engrained to know that we were the rule and not the exception.
The university's financial woes caused the magnet schools to suffer tremendously. The waitlist for the magnet schools dwindled and enrollment waned. Even though the lab schools molded my brothers, my parents, little many others, transferred me once resources started faltering. The village had dwindled and soon Grambling Lab closed. However, it was rebirth as Lincoln Preparatory School.
Grambling Lab is not alone. In the Laboratory of Learning, Sharon Gay Pierson discusses how HBCU Laboratory Schools allowed a community to dictate how their children would be educated. It shows how schools such as Alabama State College Lab Schools, FAMU Lab, the Drewry Practice High School of Talladega College, and several others were able to circumvent typical racial practices in the Deep South to provide their children with quality and impactful educational experiences. Our schools allowed us the freedom to protect, nurture, and empower our children. They were our village and safe haven.
HBCU Laboratory Schools and their impact in our communities is an often forgotten chapter in our American story. The schools are more than a by-product of segregation, but an explanation on how our communities were able to foster growth and innovation. So to Southern Lab, FAMU Lab, and all my kittens at Grambling Lab, continue to be a walking example of American ingenuity and power.