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Rooted School Indianapolis celebrates first graduating class

The first graduating class of the Rooted School, which launched in 2020. (Provided Photo/Lee Klafczynski via Chalkbeat)

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INDIANAPOLIS (CHALKBEAT) — When Montgomery Brooks walks through the halls of Rooted School Indianapolis nowadays, it feels crowded.

Crowded, at least, to him and his fellow seniors who started at the charter school as the first freshman class of about 60 students. While some of the original students have left, Montgomery and his classmates have grown alongside the school, which launched in the fall of 2020 during the pandemic in a building shared with Eastern Star Church on the Far Eastside.

Now, they walk the halls as older siblings to a family of about 160 students in grades 7-12 — and will celebrate as Rooted School’s first graduating class on May 28. The 31 seniors are part of a wave of high school graduates celebrating over the next three weeks as students who entered high school during the pandemic’s early days.

“There will never be another first,” Ma’at Lands, the school’s founder, said of the graduating seniors. “We’re just appreciative that the parents and the students took a chance on us and stayed with us. It’s their school, they helped build this school.”

The Class of 2024 pioneered the school’s main focus on technology education and dual college credit.

The school serves a majority-Black student body with a mission to provide pathways to financial freedom by educating students ready to compete in high-wage industries such as technology, Lands said.

Launching in 2020 meant making tough decisions on how to open the school at a time when some were remote. Rooted alternated teaching its first class with virtual and in-person days. Those in-person days made a difference, seniors say, in their will to continue school post-pandemic.

Plus, the schools’ small size made it easier for staff to track down students skipping virtual class.

Graduating senior Aniyah Grant had a wake up call one day freshman year when her mother scolded her for not attending class virtually. That’s when she realized she needed to return to the self-disciplined student she had been before the pandemic.

“It hit me — I was like, ok, I need to stop slacking,” said Aniyah, who has been accepted to Central State University and plans to study criminal justice to become a prosecutor. “I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do. And ever since I’ve been good.”

As the first graduating class, seniors had access to classes on building websites, computer programming, and Adobe Photoshop.

“Not only did they make sure that we had teachers who actually cared about our success and whatnot, but they also had a tech industry oriented curriculum that I was focused on,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery’s class paved the way for younger students. Now, the school’s seventh graders take technology classes for high school credit. And in high school, the dual credit courses Montgomery and his peers took their junior year are now available to freshmen.

Parents, too, appreciate the fact that the school has a majority of Black educators.

“He gets to see people who look like him and care about him,” Susan Sargeant said of her graduating son Dwayne Sullivan, who will start at Indiana University-Bloomington in the fall to study computer science and business. “Not that they wouldn’t in other schools, but they actually get to know the kids — like they know their names, they know their parents, and that’s a big deal.”

The senior class selected Scottish Rite Cathedral as the site of their graduation, which Aniyah considers a bittersweet moment.

“It’s like, ‘I don’t want to leave,’ but then it’s like, ‘I’m out of here,’” she said. “I get to finally be who I want to be and go off and see how my future, and the rest of my life, is going to be like.”

This story has been updated to include photos from the Rooted School’s graduation ceremony.

Amelia Pak-Harvey covers Indianapolis and Lawrence Township schools for Chalkbeat Indiana. Contact Amelia at