LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A fairly new school in Jefferson County is making strides to empower more girls through Afrocentric themes. Founded in 2020, the Grace M. James Academy of Excellence allows girls excelling in math and science to reach limitless possibilities. 

What You Need To Know

  • The Grace M. James Academy of Excellence was founded in 2020

  • Ronda Cosby serves as the school’s principal 

  • Every girl that walks through the halls of the academy are called a G.E.M.S (Girls Excelling in Math & Science)

  • The academy will expand to high school girls for the fall 2023 school year

The all-girls academy is named after Grace Marilynn James. James was a Louisville physician who advocated for better health care and stronger social support in the African-American community. Her legacy is living on nearly 33 years later after her death.

Every girl that walks through the halls of the academy are called G.E.M.S. (Girls Excelling in Math & Science). Every student receives a purple coat ceremony when they’re admitted and they get pinned by local Louisville women in STEM.

Along with the lab coats, the girls all abide by C.R.O.W.N. values (Collaboration, Resilience, Originality, Willingness, Narrative, Sisterhood). Kimani Bussey is just one of the 400 girls attending the school.

Kimani Bussey, a student at Grace M. James Academy of Excellence, works with her peers during class. (Spectrum News 1/Diamond Palmer)

“I feel like that’s important in a school because it’s setting me up for success,” said Bussey.

The 8th grader is busy learning school curriculum through STEM (science, technology, art and math) all with an Afrocentric theme. The school’s Principal Ronda Cosby says within that curriculum there are three tracks students can feed into: health science, engineering or computer informatics & technology. 

“That means not just using someone’s name in your classroom to make them feel included. But that means: what do you know about me as a human being, how can I access the curriculum that honors me as a human being and all the cultural assets that I bring to the table?” said Cosby.

The academy is known for its academic excellence, sisterhood, limitless possibilities, and empowerment. Cosby believes it’s helpful for students to see those characteristics in school leadership before they see it in themselves.

“This school is pushing me further ahead and giving me the opportunity and space to around other Black girls,” said Bussey.

Ronda Cosby, the principal at Grace M. James Academy of Excellence. (Spectrum News 1/Diamond Palmer)

Bussey is following the health science track. She’s taking classes that will help her dreams of becoming a pediatrician. One of her biggest cheerleaders inside the classroom is math teacher Alissa Nannie. Nannie came from a background of business corporations, had a calling to teach the next generation. She went back to school to get another master’s degree and was immediately hired.

“Knowing that girls of color already do not like math and to know that I can come in and change that perspective has been amazing. I’ve been able to do that the past two years that I’ve been here,” said Nannie.

Across the state of Kentucky, only 4% of its teachers are African-American, according to the U.S. Department of Education. It’s something Bussey knew she needed to see more of in her middle school career.

“I looked at other middle schools and it was cool but the aspect of me embracing myself and my identity as I am here...it pushed me toward this [Grace M. James Academy of Excellence] school,” said Bussey.

Thankfully for Bussey, it’s not the end of an era. She’ll be the academy’s inaugural high school class starting in the fall of 2023. 

You can stay up to date on the expansion of the high school through their Facebook page @GraceJamesGems. The school’s principal says she’s looking to fill three more positions for teachers. She welcomes people to contact the front office at (502) 485-8123 for those job postings.