By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager
We need role models, especially today as the world becomes over-burdened by too many people, too much polarization, and too many mixed messages. Kids, now more than ever, need role models. That is particularly true for minority kids from under-resourced families and communities. For them, role models are crucial.
Enter James Adams. Adams, Big Thought’s Programs Manager, spent Oct. 11 as Principal for a Day at Charles Rice Learning Center in South Dallas. He was part of the Dallas ISD Principal for a Day project that brings together community leaders into schools across the district. Adams’ school day bustled with activities, from his assembly-rousing Harambe warm-up to parent conferences.
“He’s around children and he has a love for children,” says Alpher Garrett-Jones, Principal at Charles Rice Learning Center. “His interaction with the kids is great. I loved Harambe. He sat in on some parent conferences with me. He has a great voice for reasoning. We want to do the fun things, but sometimes you have to do the serious stuff. I am hands-on and I love that about James.”
But Adams’ involvement with Charles Rice Learning Center digs much deeper than an 8-hour day on campus armed with a tie and a microphone. Adams aims to close the opportunity gap that disproportionately affects under-resourced children. Charles Rice Learning Center, a Big Thought partner for nine years, is a 69 year old school (opened in 1947) with 578 students in Pre-kindergarten to 5th grade, 98 percent of which are designated as economically disadvantaged.
Here’s another significant statistic: Charles Rice Learning Center is 78 percent black boys, according to Principal Jones. Jones, a 32-year educator who has spent the last nine years as Principal of Charles Rice, understands the role model power of a successful black man serving as Principal for a Day.
“We have to hook them in,” she says. “We have to give them something. Trying to get male volunteers is really difficult. Getting black male volunteers is most difficult. We need that visibility. They need to see that black men aren’t just here to chastise them. They need that different type of presence.”
For Adams, Charles Rice was like coming home. No, he didn’t grow up in South Dallas. He’s a native of Lake Charles, Louisiana. But “it was like being home again,” he says. “The staff and students were accommodating and engaging. Students were eager to share their gifts and stories about their community.”
That sense of community, of unwavering dedication to teaching, nurturing and collaborating, has served Charles Rice well. Yes, there are obstacles and limitations. Jones says the resources for after-school clubs are hardly plentiful. The 72-member choir does meet on a daily basis, but other than that Monday is the only day of widespread club activity. Jones says teachers volunteer for two hours to sponsor the garden, TAC (sewing), ballet, tap, jazz, art, debate, and orators clubs. CRLC works with Dallas ISD on a chess club, which the district sponsors.
In 2013, Big Thought joined forces with CRLC for two special projects. The Broken Pieces project encouraged kids to gather broken glass and broken windows, then put them back together as art. The message – relationships can be broken and they can be put back together. Also, the William Sidney Pittman project had children researching the noted architect born in Alabama who came to Texas in 1913 and built temples, churches and chapels in Dallas, Fort Worth, Waxahachie and Houston. Pittman died in Dallas in 1958.
Pittman was a role model. He embodied the Charles Rice Learning Center pillars – respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, citizenship and caring. The school itself regularly exemplifies those pillars. According to a December 2015 Dallas Observer article, CRLC is clearly recognized as a neighborhood “local gem” with a “reputation for quality.” In Dallas ISD’s 2013-2015 School Effectiveness Index, Charles Rice Learning Center earned a score of 59, which is exemplary. That rating put CRLC at the top rank of Dallas ISD elementary schools.
You can clearly see the attention to the kids, from the assemblies to the martial arts gym classes. The first assembly highlighted a hilarious show from those outrageous and loveable clowns Slappy and Monday. The second assembly featured Adams’ encore Harambe chant-along and a presentation by Mr. Blue Shoes (nee Michael Dyson). Dyson, a local guitarist, performer and blues music expert, gets kids excited about playing guitar while teaching them the rich history of the blues.
After Mr. Blue Shoes had the children clapping, hollering and laughing, it was time for pictures. The CRLC choir members posed with Mr. Blue Shoes and his cool guitars. Adams was immediately summoned to be part of the pics. He hopped onto the stage, beamed a toothy smile and embraced his elementary-aged friends. Role models always have time for warm photos.
Photo by Mario Tarradell/Big Thought