#51 Be a mentor to a high school student

In October I talked to Sunny about her job as an art teacher in a new (to her) school and mine as a tour manager. How weird is it, I said, that I didn't study business or music but I've learned how to work in the music business. She said that more than anyone she knows I'm not defined by my work and that I just apply my personality to whatever job I'm doing and figure it out.

I had to think about this because I feel very defined by my work. It's true, though, that while I sometimes think I'd like to take an audio class, I'm far more comfortable with staging, sound, and the geekier financial aspects of music management than I would have ever imagined back when I worked in books; I credit my parents and Montessori for making me so damn flexible. Sunny said it doesn't matter if I'm self-taught, I'm still an expert and should do the Ask an Expert program at her school.

At Sunny's public school in Chicago, seniors are matched up with "experts" to help them with their senior project, the main thesis question and the direction of research they are taking. I stalled for a minute due to doubts as to whether I reeeeeally know enough to call myself an expert but OKAY. If we are talking about research, I'm in. I love research like I love long walks on the beach at sunset. No wait, like soup. I love research like a good bowl of soup. Long walks on the beach at sunset are just okay.

I've learned this about the school, North Lawndale College Prep:

85% of graduates are the first from their families to go to college

Last year the school received over 1200 applications for 240 openings and all of the students, most of them from the West Side, were picked from a blind lottery

NLCP receives about $1,500 less per student from public sources than traditional Chicago public high schools so they still struggle with a funding gap

NLCP has led all charter and traditional Chicago Public high schools in percentage of graduates in college the fall after their graduation for the past two years

70% of graduates have gone on to 4-year colleges and 30% to 2-year colleges since 2005 and 25% of college graduates are in or have completed graduate school

I was matched up with my student, a young woman dancer who asked, "Does performing arts improve student academic success, social skills, and college readiness?"

We were paired because music is a performing art but I still had a moment. I was exposed to every performing art growing up but didn't make them mine. After elementary school, I wasn't in plays, I quit the piano, I sucked at guitar, I sang off key in church, my dancing consisted of flopping around during reggae shows and I chose the academic high school where I could bury my nose in books rather than the School for Creative and Performing Arts. I AM GOING TO FAIL THIS GIRL.

I got out of my fear by pulling from all the examples I have surrounding me of what performing arts does for people's lives and turned to research to check up on the status of the arts in education these days. We ended up having a conversation on the phone since I wasn't in Chicago to go to the school and meet La'Keithia in person. We both explained where we were coming from, asked a lot of questions, and I hope I helped lead her down paths she hadn't considered and supported the direction she had started to take.

I learned a lot too.

American business leaders want an innovative work force yet arts education is not recognized as key to the solution.

Arts education strengthens cognitive development, innovative and creative thinking, critical reflection, communication skills, enhances social adaptability, cultural awareness and enables kids to have tolerance and acceptance, appreciation of others.

Art gives kids who are not book learners a way to express their own intelligence.

Art opens up new opportunities, gives kids something positive to do who may not have a lot of other choices. I'm talking about secretly talented gang bangers here.

Unlike curriculum in which correct answers and rules prevail, in the arts people use judgment over rules. There are many ways to see and interpret the world.

The arts help children learn to say what cannot be said.

Studies show that involvement in the arts helps kids increase test scores and promotes academic achievement.

The arts offer a way for people to tell their stories, use their imagination, become active learners and imagination and expression are at the center of the learning process

The arts in school symbolizes to the young what adults think is important.



K said...

Great post. I can't stand the idea that arts is just fluffy fun stuff that should be taught as a break from "real" subjects, like science or maths. The truth is that the arts teach people about self-expression, but also get them thinking about history, politics, identity politics, psychology, anthropology... everything you need to know about being human is in there.

ronckytonk said...

Bailey, yes! Arts teach one how to think about the whole world and synthesize many ideas at once. This is why I loved going to interdisciplinary schools where subjects and themes were taught together and not broken out as if they are separate.

K said...

Yeah, an interdisciplinary approach is such an important way of developing critical thought. Sadly, the arts in the UK are pretty screwed at the moment, and the gargantuan university cuts haven't helped uni-funded programs...