• Leveling The Playing Field

    Posted by Clayborn Knight on 2/17/2019 11:00:00 AM


    The role of the community or neighborhood based school has changed a lot in recent years.   When given the opportunity open Graves over 4 years ago, never before had experienced more joy and excitement about begin in the field of education.  The only experience could begin to rival the feeling was when I got my first class of 1st graders back in the mid 90s.   At that point, I felt that I was in a place where I felt that I, as a teacher, could make a difference by changing the trajectory of the lives of their lives through education.  No, I wasn’t expecting to be some miracle worker but I felt that I had something to offer those 5 and 6 year olds that would start them on the path to greatness.  Now some might say that I was being a little bit over zealous thinking that way.  I’ve always been one who tends to be more optimistic than pessimistic.

    I’ve spent my entire career working in high poverty schools.   These are schools where the majority of students qualify for free or reduced lunch services.   Research has been done that connects high poverty to lower student achievement. There have also been links to less parental involvement and lack of school readiness.    When children come to school unready to learn, they are already starting with less academic knowledge and skills than expected.  These deficiencies, although not permanent, can make it more difficult for these students to succeed.   These children who might come from high poverty homes need and deserve a high quality education just as much and need it even more than children who might come from middle class or high socio-economic status homes. 

    I’ve always felt that education can be the great leveler to get those with less to the position of achieving and earning more.  I soon realized that children in high poverty schools often need more than just the basics.   I found that my students needed me to connect with them and to reach them in a way that traditional instruction might not. We can not afford to let these children slip through the cracks.  There needed to be some sort of leveler and for me I discovered the use of the Arts of music, dance, and theatre combined with high expectations and a NO EXCUSE mentality helped to propel my teaching and my students learning to new levels.  By using music and theatre with my children, I could reach them and help them connect to the learning of content better than if I relied simply on traditional methods and textbooks.    It was through the use of these mediums along with poetry that helped me to see my children began to recite and write poetry weekly as a part of our program to take students higher than they were believed to be able to go.

    This belief has followed me throughout my career and especially when I became an administrator.  I believe in the power of the Arts and as a building principal who is able to influence school and teacher decisions, it is hard for me to imagine leading a school where the Arts are not an integral part of the school-wide program.   Knowing how the Arts open doors for students that could otherwise remain closed, I knew when opening Graves that the Arts had to be a part of our educational program and experience for our children.   The Arts play a major role in us living out our motto of Creating Opportunities, Discovering Dreams and Challenging Realities.   With the programs offered at Graves, we strive to provide opportunities not normally afforded to children who attend high poverty schools and where the majority of the children come from homes where the primary language spoken in the home is not English.   Through the daily offerings of Dance, Drama, Music and Art in addition to the standard 4 Core of Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies, our students are exposed to opportunities they might otherwise not have.  We have expanded all of these offerings beyond the school day through extracurricular clubs and performances.   

    All students can benefit from exposure to and experience with the Arts, but I’ve found that with my students have been some of a leveler and my goal has been to help all of my students to have a fair shot at success both in and out of the classroom.   My goal is set my students up for increased achievement to stretch beyond what academic knowledge and skills can provide them.  It is our mission to create opportunities to open doors for them to discover their dreams and then use those dreams to challenge the realities of their curent situation.   We will continue to strive to level the playing field so that current realities don’t have to limit their future realities.   

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