IMANI is celebrating 20 years of helping Montclair students to do their best in the classroom.

The academic services organization for students of color was established in 1999.

“We can’t believe we’re already at 20 years. We’ve been so busy doing the work, but we didn’t realize time was passing,” said JoAnn McCullough, IMANI’s executive director.

More than 5,000 students have participated in IMANI programs over the past two decades, including the more than 1,000 students that IMANI has aided in the college application process.

“That is a very big milestone,” says James Harris, who is a member of IMANI’s advisory committee. Research has shown that community-based organizations play an important role in helping schools to improve students’ performance and confidence. “And IMANI has done exactly that,” he said.

IMANI will hold a gala at St. Luke’s Church on Nov. 16. IMANI hopes to keep celebrating the anniversary with a series of other events, to be determined, through the next year, McCullough said.

In 1999, the results of a study on student standardized test performance found that students of color were lagging behind white students in test scores.

At the time, the College Board released a paper detailing best practices on helping to encourage high academic achievement among minority student populations.

Montclair was part of a group of area schools that joined together to study the paper and come up with programs to encourage student achievement.

McCullough was among the members of the original study committee, which included school staff, parents and other community members.

“This is really a program that has been held in high esteem among the community,” McCullough said.

McCullough was among the members of the original study committee, which included school staff, parents and other community members.

The group discovered early in its inception that many students of color were not enrolling in honors and AP courses. Some were discouraged from doing so, or they did not feel comfortable enrolling - whether it was because they were the only student of their demographic in the class, or they didn’t feel like they were prepared enough for the coursework, McCullough said.

For Harris, IMANI’s role in helping students prepare to apply for colleges, universities and post-secondary education is one of its most important accomplishments. It was found, he said, that many families and students were not aware of how far in advance they needed to apply for admission to colleges and universities, and many students were unsure of how to handle certain aspects of the application process. IMANI’s volunteers have worked to help students become familiar with the application process and what it involved.

IMANI began by offering SAT prep classes and small tutoring groups for high school students in 2000. Over the next several years, IMANI expanded its offerings to include summer enrichment programs in literature and other subjects, coding and math clubs, and community service.

IMANI later expanded to include services for elementary and middle school students. The programs include the Mini IMANI program for children, which had its start at Nishuane and expanded to include all seven elementary schools.

For middle school students, IMANI has Middle IMANI, which was introduced at Glenfield Middle School in 2015, and a coding and technology club.

Even with all of IMANI’s work over the past 20 years, a lot of work remains to be done, Harris said, noting that the achievement gap still remains. “We’re still not there yet,” he said. A 2015 report from the Achievement Gap Advisory Panel found a 30-point difference between the average performances of white students and black students on the language arts portion of the ASK test.

Harris said most of the panel’s recommendations still need to be implemented.

Montclair also needs to be conscious of a resource gap, Harris said. There are wealthy families whose parents have advanced degrees, and who have access to tutoring services and other resources to help their children. But, Harris said, there are many families in Montclair who do not have those means.

“We have made a tremendous improvement,” says McCullough. “But there’s still a lot more work to be done. And we’re looking forward to the next 20 years.”