Pharrell Williams Plans To Open Private Schools For Low-Income Families

By Jason Hall

June 7, 2021

Singer and producer Pharrell Williams plans to open a group of small private schools for students from low-income families, which will include a location in his home county.

Pilot Online reports the Virginia Beach native's nonprofit group will open its first school in Ghent this fall for students in grades three through five.

The group has not provided specific details on the school's location as of Monday (June 7). Williams' nonprofit, "YELLOW" has run summer programs for students during the past decade and plans to expand.

“If the system is fixed and unfair, then it needs to be broken,” Williams said in a news release via Pilot Online. “We don’t want lockstep learning where so many kids fall behind; we want bespoke learning designed for each child, where the things that make a child different are the same things that will make a child rise up and take flight.”

Yellowhab, which is named after the nonproft and "hab," referencing the name of the Mars habitat in the film, The Martian, will be tuition-free for at least the first year of its existence, with the cost of attendance covered by philanthropic donations.

The Walton Family Foundation, a charitable foundation endowed by the owners of Walmart, has already contributed as an early donor to the school as part of its two decades of donations to charter schools.

YELLOW's additional ties to charter advocates include its executive director having founded charters in Los Angeles, as well as the chair of its board having founded the Harlem Children's Zone, which runs three charters in New York City.

Executive Director Mike McGalliard confirmed the school has no intention of seeking local approval or funding to make the school a public charter moving forward.

“We are very clear here that we’re not taking away from the city or the district. We want to be additive and not put any kind of onerous, intrusive impact on those institutions,” McGalliard said via Pilot Online. “It’s very important that we not disrupt that revenue stream.”

Williams' nonprofit has previously offered summer programs and educational opportunities in the Hampton Roads area for years, but set plans for opening its first school in Norfolk due to housing segregation and the city's plan to redevelop three public housing communities as part of a billion-dollar St. Paul's redevelopment, leading to displacement of families.

“Residents (are) being displaced from their homes with potentially limited housing options available which limits options for the children,” Stephanie Walters, YELLOW’s director of engagement, wrote in an email obtained by Pilot Online. “We have a great relationship with the City of Norfolk and want to be a part of the solution in supporting the community with resources and support.”


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