A few years ago I had no idea what donorschoose.org was or how much I would come rely on it to fund the projects my elementary school art students produce throughout the year. I had just been offered my current position in an urban school in one of the most underprivileged areas of the city, teaching Visual Art to kids aged 4-11 years old, pre-K through 5th grade.
I’d decided to teach in the public school system for a number of reasons: the chance to share my love of art with young people, the opportunity to build relationships with students over several years, and the fact that I’m a product of public schools myself. I felt it was a way to engage in meaningful work while doing something I loved, making art while making Memphis a brighter place. In brief, I was following a pattern that’s played out in various incarnations throughout my career, that of the professional (some might argue delusional) do-gooder.
To say I was naive when I first started this life chapter would be an understatement. It takes far more than passion or heart, grit or good intentions to make a difference.
I knew it took planning: of lessons, activities, curricula, and resources. I looked forward to engaging students on various levels, academically and emotionally. What I did not understand would have such an impact upon every art teacher in the city was the imperative to which funding our work would fall largely upon ourselves.
This is where initiatives like donorschoose.org play such a vital role in the art education of our community’s students. You may already know the dire financial straits our city’s public schools face, which is intensified in areas of town where entrenched poverty affects the lives of kids in ways many may find impossible to imagine. Because of this and innumerable other reasons, district funding tends to go towards what is considered by the powers that be as fundamental to future success in the workforce: reading, math, and science.
While these subjects are undoubtedly crucial to the matriculation of anyone’s overall education, I would argue that the arts, and Visual Art specifically, are in many ways even more important to the cultivation of wholly sentient and fully human beings.