Written by Lydia DuBois, AmeriCorps Member serving on the Capital Area United Way Team at Capitol Middle School.
“Nothing fills your soul like teaching,” said Chloe Wiley, principal at Baton Rouge Bridge Academy. My soul filled when I heard this. Looking around the room as her students chanted and cheered during Morning Motivation, I knew it to be true.
The staff at City Year Baton Rouge organizes many professional development opportunities for its AmeriCorps Members, and on Friday, January 29th, thanks to CYBR’s Managing Director, Grace Andrews, and New Schools for Baton Rouge, an organization that aims to bring a new network of high-performing schools to Baton Rouge, AmeriCorps Members took the day to tour three new schools in the city. We saw firsthand how educators are implementing new strategies in education, and how teachers’ excitement and positive outlook towards learning provides a safe and happy environment for their students. Proactivity in the community yields progress, as exemplified in three schools, Baton Rouge Bridge Academy, Democracy Prep, and Celerity Crestworth. All begin in Kindergarten, intervening early while implementing a unique classroom structure.
Candidates interested in entering education toured Bridge Academy and many other diverse classrooms.
Our first stop was Bridge Academy, where principal Chloe Wiley holds her Kindergarteners to high standards in both academics and character. Donned in Mardi Gras colors and a festive feather piece, she spoke to us about working with her teachers to create a school where she would send her own children. She emphasizes working hard, having fun, and showing love.
Students began the day with a song, followed by an acknowledgement of three special students who best exhibited the value of the month. This month’s value was Creativity, defined by the act of “working through challenges.”
Wiley and her teachers address the students as “scholars,” or “friends.” When Wiley asks the students their mission, they all answer: “To go to college!” The environment in the room was warm, welcoming, inclusive, and lighthearted- with an undertone of “lets-get-things-done!” AmeriCorps Members toured classrooms, met with teachers (including a City Year alumna!) and asked Ms. Wiley questions. In one of the classrooms, AmeriCorps members flipped through a binder of developed lesson plans that Wiley had created herself.
Managing Director Grace Andrews stands with CYBR Alumna ('14) and current kindergarten teacher at Baton Rouge Bridge Academy, Jennifer Capers-Williams, who proudly wears her red bomber as a leader for life.
Our next stop was Democracy Prep, which operates on the motto that everything is earned. When we arrived, all Kindergarteners were out on a field trip, except for the few who had to stay behind because their behavior had not earned them the privilege of attending the trip. AmeriCorps Members also toured a 6th grade math class, where the teacher wrote out math problems onto a projected slide and instructed the students to focus on whichever student she called on to answer a question. The skills she was teaching would help these students function in classrooms for years to come, and as I watched on, I realized that I longed to be a part of a movement of teachers that aim to build character and a respectful community space (think of “Ubuntu”) while teaching students the classroom material they need to succeed.
After, we sat down to speak with the principal, Michelle Gieg, and heard a cheerful testimonial from a parent whose son attended the school. Ms. Gieg expressed that she expects every teacher to have the same classroom and behavior management structures, and that the curriculum is where she expects her teachers to get innovative and creative. The parent spoke to us about the school's one-on-one approach with students, and how the school was able to give each child the attention and support he or she needs. The school’s smooth transitions and universal classroom structure showed the importance of creating community not only in the classroom, but also surrounding the staff.
Last, we visited Celerity Crestworth, which is also CYBR’s newest partnership! AmeriCorps members spoke with Celerity Schools Louisiana Superintendant Craig Knotts, toured the newly decorated hallways, visited several classrooms of varying grades, and even participated in a small chess lesson with Damen Fletcher, a well-known chess instructor. Chess and dance are mandatory for all students at Celerity, and after seeing the students engage in both, it was clear what a difference the arts makes in diversifying the curriculum and allowing students a creative outlet during the day. Celerity emphasizes learning by doing, project-based learning, and teaching in centers, with a 1:1 student to computer ratio. AmeriCorps members toured classrooms and saw some of their coworkers in action!
The Education Pathways Day was a shared experience for City Year AmeriCorps members, incoming Teach For America teachers, and Louisiana State University students majoring in Education Studies.
Once we’re done with City Year, there are many paths we can take in education: especially ones at start-up schools aimed at transforming the ways students learn. We also learned that everyone can succeed, and that they’re given higher chances to succeed when the intervention is early, when it involves parent support and engagement, and teachers who are just as Fired Up! as we are. The visit provided a hopeful glimpse at a future in education, and I’m sure that many of us left with plans to teach, with the confidence that there will be a positive place that needs us to do it. City Year provides its AmeriCorps Members with development that lasts beyond the service year, which shows its dedication to not only helping us serve, but also towards helping us advance as professionals and as people.