Pharrell Williams’ New School Offers a ‘Room Without a Roof’ to Low-Income Students

All over the country, high-achieving students are given the opportunity of a lifetime: to attend top-tier schools. However, many of them have no choice but to attend schools that offer little to no resources to help them succeed. One example is La Guardia High School in New York City, where the student body is largely composed of students who pass the Rotten Boroughs exam, which is the test required for admission to New York City’s elite high schools.

One of music’s most iconic artists, Pharrell Williams, is taking his talents to the classroom. The Grammy-winning producer has started a new charter school in Los Angeles, where he hopes to inspire young students to reach for their dreams. His new school, called the Pharrell Williams Academy, is a public charter school that students from all backgrounds can attend. While the school is still in its earliest stages, Williams is already looking forward to seeing his students grow over the years.

The $25 million dollar-funded “School Without Walls” is the first to be funded by the Gates Foundation. It is located in the Sathya Sai School, in the heart of Los Angeles County, California. The building is located in the heart of the city, and offers students who live in low-income areas the opportunity to learn to read, write, and perform basic arithmetic. The school will also offer small, specialized classes that will be taught by a staff of teachers that have earned their Masters in Education, and have experience teaching low-income students.

word-image-2449 If you visit the Yellow Team website, you will find a powerful statement: We level the playing field with education. The website, movement and concept are the work of Pharrell Williams, a son of Norfolk, Virginia. His Team Yellow is opening a private school for third- through fifth-graders this fall called Yellowhab. The goal of the new school is to put young people first and surround them with the support they need to prepare them with the skills and mindset to succeed.

Geelhab will also be an opportunity for the community to support, nurture and encourage the children in their learning. Like many cities across the country, Norfolk is undergoing a redevelopment process that will displace many families dependent on public housing. This is a noble effort by the Yellow Farrell Foundation that has the potential to transform a community in crisis, just as the Jeffrey Canada Children’s Zone of Harlem did when Harlem underwent a similar revitalization and many African-American families were displaced.

With his roots firmly planted in Hip Hop, Pharrell’s decision to open a school is a testament to the Hip Hop community’s longstanding commitment to educating youth, creating opportunities for our communities, and addressing the issues of the urban poor. As the Happy hit says, it gives students access to a homeless space where creativity triumphs and students are grouped according to their needs rather than traditional age restrictions. The school will start with a modest number of 40-50 students who will be admitted by lot. A private, independent school will be free to those who attend them.


Farrell’s work in communities is not new. Along with his mother, Dr. Carolyn Williams, Pharrell has been involved in youth development for many years. After starting to hand out school supplies in his hometown, he began sponsoring innovative summer camps focused on STEAMM (science, technology, engineering, art, math and motivation). Her passion has always been to help disadvantaged and at-risk youth. Yellowhab is a natural extension of its ongoing efforts to give something back to the communities that need it most.


Public educators are sometimes ambivalent about private and charter schools, which they see as part of an ongoing assault on public education. As the principal of a public school that admits students through a lottery system, and with a daughter in an innovative public school, I think it is very important to provide communities with options like Yellowhab. Last year I told a group of educators about a trait of sunflowers that helps them survive among other plants.

Sunflowers are allelopathic plants, meaning their roots release a chemical into the soil that prevents other plant species from growing nearby. The advent of private schools, schools of choice and charter schools should not have an allelopathic effect on the public schools that educate the majority of the community’s children. Private and charter schools should not crowd out innovation in the traditional public school sector, but rather encourage it.

Yellowhab Farrell is a lifeboat for a small group of students in this community, but the question remains what the local school district will do to provide quality education for the other students who cannot enroll in this school. Innovative private and charter schools should not relieve public schools of the responsibility to provide an educational environment that fosters creativity and offers the differentiation and wellness activities that Yellowhub will provide.

If ambitious

I hope Yellowhab can be a spark for the Norfolk community and public education in general to rethink our approach to education. Let’s work with private and charter schools to improve our communities by resisting the urge to devalue our public schools, our teachers and our students. On the Team Yellow website, Pharrell writes that yellow is the color of the sun, the color of light and the color of knowledge. It also reminds us that yellow is the color of caution.

I hope Yellowhab will lead the way for children and those who teach children in our urban communities.On Tuesday, the singer Pharrell Williams unveiled the P.A.C.E. (Partnership for Advancement of Creative Excellence), a school in Los Angeles that will be the first nationwide community school to serve low-income students mostly of color. The school is a brick and mortar structure, but its focus is on working with online students, which is where its teachers can offer the full course load and experience the benefits of being an online school.

The school will offer grades K-8 and its location in South Los Angeles will be super convenient for its parents and current students.. Read more about pharrell williams happy and let us know what you think.

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