Dawn Paul – Associate Editor – The education system is training our future leaders and the next generation for success. Our children truly are the future, so it is vital that at the elementary and middle school level, they receive the foundation necessary to prepare them to not only successfully graduate high school and college, but to go beyond that. The Rhodes School (TRS) is a familiar and well-respected name in the city when it comes to education, with campuses in Humble, North, East, and Southeast Houston. TRS is the educational entity that is successfully preparing our children, meeting and exceeding the needs of the state, parents, and our children. Founded by Michelle L. Bonton, TRS is providing our children with what they deserve, a quality education, through an arts-based program, exposing them to unique and authentic experiences that will help them excel.
Bonton has more than 20 years of experience in education. As a veteran educator, she not only founded TRS, but she also serves as the Superintendent. Though there are good schools in the traditional education system, Bonton founded TRS because she felt that school should be and could be more. She says, “I believe that school should be more than just test scores. School should be a place where it is more than a one way knowledge acquisition, where teachers are always the senders and students are always the receivers. It should not be an environment in which teachers and parents are juxtaposed against each other.”
TRS’s motto is “We are CREW, not PASSENGERS.” TRS has something special when it comes to providing education to our children. TRS delivers that “wow factor” in multiple ways, including but not limited to:
- Student Led Conferences – These conferences are a marked departure from the traditional parent-teacher conference. They offer a symposium within which parents and students directly engage each other to discuss academic progress, areas for growth, and plans for continued success. Also discussed are student and/or parent behaviors or attitudes that may be impeding that success.
- Field Experiences – These experiences occur 7-10 times per school year. They are strategically designed to facilitate the connection between classroom theory and real life. Every student in every classroom in every grade leaves the classroom to apply their understanding of skills and concepts learned in the classroom. This helps gives students exposure, helping them learn to solve real world problems or helping them address real world issues.
- Culturally Relevant and Community Sustaining Pedagogy – TRS is intentional with their efforts in linking schooling and culture. Teachers and administrators use material and curriculum that allows students to explore their cultural identities, affirming their personal and specific needs.
- Daily and Monthly CREW Meetings – These purposeful and entertaining meetings provide the forum to teach children the disciplines of values based on decision making, self-assessment, and peer to peer support and accountability. The principle of being in a CREW and not a passenger is used to help students understand their need for each other. Students learn the importance of working together to accomplish goals. They gain a real teamwork mentality that shows them it is their personal responsibility to use their individual gifts, talent, time, and resources to promote the success of others with whom they are associated.
Through an award-winning arts-based instructional program, TRS is an environment where children are encouraged to express themselves creatively, providing them opportunities to apply their learning in ways that move them beyond being spectators and reservoirs of information and knowledge to discoverers of learning and knowledge. This is done through authentic experiences that have meaning and relevance in real life. “I know that a large majority of the education community is focused on STEM learning, and that is certainly an important skillset that our students need to have. However, there is a myriad of research that talks about the importance of the arts and their positive impact on student achievement. In fact, research shows that there is a very strong correlation between students’ creative ability and their success in STEM fields,” says Bonton. Bonton believes school should be a place where the instructional program and related activities acknowledge, honor, strengthen, and build upon a child’s uniqueness. Her vision for TRS has turned into a reality, using the influence of the arts to provide our children with a quality education.
The Rhodes School spoke to d-mars.com about their success in educating our children in the community:
What is your response to people who are opposed to charter schools and feel that these schools are pushing out the traditional public schools that have been in the community for years?
Schools have long been pillars of the community and served as unifying symbol of oneness and belonging, in much the same way our churches do. However, we cannot deny that there is an alarmingly increasing number of school closures within the African-American community. Charter schools are giving us back those centralizing, unifying symbols of community that is so integral to our culture. Additionally, research indicates that African American students enrolled in charter schools, and particularly those charter schools operated by African Americans, tend to experience greater academic success than their non-charter peers enrolled in traditional school programs. That is what we should be talking about within the African American community: our children’s success. We must start asking the question of what works for our children. That’s it. Nothing else.
How has The Rhodes School provided parents with a great option for education for their children?
TRS provides a rigorous arts-based instructional program in a close-knit environment that consistently leads to academic results that meet or exceed state expectations. The arts-based curriculum gives students regular opportunities to explore and demonstrate their creative gifts through performance and visual representation. Students do not just observe and learn about art, but hey produce art in many of its varied forms. Additionally, TRS delivers instruction and information that is culturally responsive, which expands a students’ exposure to understand and navigate in a world that is increasingly global. Further, TRS utilizes a very strong character development program that holds students accountable, building their leadership capacity, and challenging them to demonstrate integrity in both their public and private lives.
What is the mindset of the staff and teachers at The Rhodes School when it comes to educating children?
If it’s not good enough for my own children, or my sister’s children, then it’s not good enough for the children at TRS. This is the acid test for every TRS teacher. This is the acid test by which administrators make decisions about who will stay and who will go on the teaching staff. If we cannot honestly say that we would want our own children to have what we are giving TRS children, then we dig down deep and give them what we would want our own to have. Anything less is unacceptable. Many are surprised at the high expectations and demand for excellence and quality that we have of our teachers. Those that are up for the challenge remain, and those that are not generally return to the traditional school system. They are also surprised at the level of parent involvement and that our students are so well-behaved.
Talk about The Rhodes School arts-based curriculum.
The arts-based curriculum teaches students core skills and concepts using the arts as a framework. For example, in a writing class, students might be asked to write about a piece of artwork. They may be asked to interpret a story through a dance, or to match the mood of the story by choosing and performing a song that typifies the mood. Additionally, students learn mathematical concepts in music, and they learn science concepts in art. Students select a fine art discipline and receive instruction at least twice a week during the school day. They have multiple opportunities to perform and/or display their art work both within the school and in the community at-large. Students also participate in competitions designed to help them hone their skills. The fine arts instruction is offered as part of the school curriculum and parents only pay a one-time fee $200.00 for the entire school year. The fee is to cover the cost of instrument care and/or uniform cleaning. The school covers the cost of everything else. When you add that up, it’s only about $20.00 per month. You simply cannot get that anywhere else, and you certainly cannot get that kind of quality.
What is next for The Rhodes School (expansion, curriculum, etc.)?
The Rhodes School is excited to announce the opening of two new campuses for fall 2016. We are opening a pk4-8th grade campus at 600 Charles Street in Humble, Texas, and a kinder-5th grade campus in Acres Homes at 6601 Antoine. We have future plans to develop an Early College High School in fall of 2017 where we will welcome our first high school freshman class. Long-term plans include the development of a high school for the performing and visual arts.
Though there are many peripheral factors that can impact an African-American student’s achievement, such as high rates of incarceration, single family parenting, and generational poverty, The Rhodes School’s educational model recognizes these risk-factors and mitigates them by providing the families they serve with connections to as many wrap-around services as possible, using the school as a community hub within which the services are provided. This strategy allows TRS to be more than just the place where their children learn. The feedback from parents about their child’s experience at TRS has been absolutely positive. “TRS parents often comment about the loving environment, the responsiveness to parent concerns, the quality of instruction, and the rigor of the curriculum,” Bonton says. Bonton’s approach has created a great trust between parents and TRS. Bonton adds, “The outcome is a level of loyalty that has resulted in our school growing from just 97 students 9 years ago to nearly 1,000 students today. That same level of loyalty causes more than 90% of our students to return year after year. This is another way TRS employs culturally relevant and community sustaining methodology.
The strong sense of community is also what attracts new parents. More than 90% of them indicate that they learned about The Rhodes School through a personal acquaintance with a current parent.”
When it comes to educating our children, Bonton is all about action. Bonton has experienced many in our community talking about problems, whose fault it is, how things used to be, should be, and could be. However, when it comes to our children, Bonton is all about action. She expresses, “When it comes to our children, it is time to stop talking and start doing. Our forefathers have given us a very proud legacy of endurance, perseverance, determination, and strength. We must not wait on anyone to fix the education system in our community. TRS is helping to ensure that our children have quality programming without having to leave their neighborhood.” Our forefathers were slaves, who were hung, who bled and died, making great sacrifices so we can enjoy many opportunities today. Bonton does not take that lightly. She wants to continue to build upon the legacy they left us through TRS. For her, she knows that the answer is the children. TRS is preparing our children to continue the legacy and go beyond it, exceeding expectations. Bonton didn’t believe in waiting for anyone to fix the problems in the education system. “There is no ‘they.’ No one else is going to do it. No one else is coming, and we must answer the call,” Bonton says.
Bonton has founded TRS as not just an educational tool, but as a tool to create a great legacy. Her passion and conviction for our children is genuine, not only as an educator, but as a proud member of this community. When you ask her why she has such conviction, she will loudly proclaim the TRS mindset and say, “Our Children Deserve It!” To find out more about The Rhodes School, please visit www.rhodesschool.org