Two years ago, a principal had a plan: infuse Lenora B. Smith Elementary School with arts and activities, work overtime with the kids, and turn the perennially “F” school around.
“We really want to focus on reading and writing and mathematics, but I believe when you bring in the arts, when you bring in music and drams and dance and you bring in stem and bring in tea parties and after school programs and empowerment, those things go hand in hand with education. It helps enrich everything, and all of a sudden reading and writing and math has purpose behind it,” said Contessa Bryant, the relentlessly energetic principal.
In a school where 99% of the students are on free lunch; it takes extra-dedicated teachers to change the status quo. Trevor Ditzler teaches math and volunteers with hip-hop dancing after school. He said giving the kids something to get excited about helps them with their academic work, too.
“They’re just pushing themselves that much harder, pushing themselves that much more toward greatness. I think it raises the self-esteem,” said Ditzler.
The administration here is trying to make STEM subjects more exciting. In Ditzler’s math class, the kids sing a rousing song they wrote to help them remember their multiplication tables. Science clases design their own paper airplanes and measure their performance; a simple way to get the students thinking.
“It’s not them getting step by step directions, but it’s them working together to create and to be able to reason about thing. So that gets them all excited,” explained Cisely Scott, the school’s assistant principal.
Partnering with groups like the Embrace Girls Foundation, the U.S. Customs Service, and the Miami Marlins gives the kids here more opportunities. For example, Embrace Girls holds regular after school tea parties to teach manners, etiquette, and promote self-worth to young ladies.
When you have a principal who graduated from the New World School of the Arts as a trained opera singer; it’s vital to hit the right notes on stage and in the classroom. Her theme is “Building Above C-Level”, because no one at Lenora B. Smith Elementary School will be satisfied until they earn an “A.”