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Mariachi Month - Closing the Opportunity Gap
By Valerie Johnson
4/4/2011 11:51:00 AM

Article originally written by Arthur Griffin for ASCD Express. Reprinted with permission.

In current education debates the phrase "achievement gap" always comes up when experts discuss challenges in learning. After many years serving in various education roles, I believe the achievement gap is a misnomer; a better term would be "opportunity gap."

Low-income students would likely overcome this gap if they were given the same opportunities as their peers: safe environments, full stomachs, early exposure to learning, and so on. Disadvantaged students with access to cultural activities, academic enrichment activities, and quality before- and after-school programs learn as quickly as other students.

This is why the Whole Child Initiative is so crucial. While not a new concept, the idea of teaching the whole child is only now coming to fruition. We have reached a true tipping point with support from President Barack Obama, whose education plan incorporates many elements that will help achieve whole child goals, as well as from professional organizations such as ASCD and the American Association of School Administrators.

As senior vice president of McGraw-Hill Education's Urban Advisory Resource, I have the opportunity to visit two or three districts every week, and I've seen some common traits in successfully teaching the whole child. While there is no magic bullet, this three-pronged approach can help put us on the right path.

1. Instill Confidence Early
The first step in educating the whole child is making sure students know adults who really care about them. A little caring, particularly in the early childhood education setting, goes a long way to nurture success, security, and self-esteem. Educators do what they do because they care.

While building a sense of confidence like this is important, the early childhood education programs also must ensure that each child begins school prepared to learn. Beyond caring, we must offer effective, research-based early childhood programs. That includes curricula with "characterbuilding" instruction to support students' well-being and ability to address personal challenges.

For example, while serving as chair for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the district initiated the Bright Beginnings early childhood program. The Title I program screens and selects 4-year-olds to participate in the child-centered, literacy-focused curriculum, which ensures that children are prepared for success in kindergarten and beyond.

The results have been great. An early analysis showed that the Bright Beginnings students significantly outperformed comparison groups. This was particularly noticeable with the African American students. Bright Beginnings students were better prepared for kindergarten, and in particular, English as a second language students benefited significantly from the program as shown in the end of kindergarten achievement data.

2. Engage children's heritage
America has always been the land of opportunity. As our country continues to embrace people and cultures from all over the world, diversity only makes us better. The increase of non-Englishspeaking immigrants moving to America and the increase of children living in poverty affects our schools, and many of these students certainly experience a gap in learning opportunities. Many reports show us that to succeed as a nation, we must do all we can to help all learners succeed in literacy, math, science, and so much more. That includes making the learning process culturally relevant.

The McGraw-Hill Education Urban Advisory Resource is a multicultural team, so we know firsthand the importance of celebrating diversity and working with school leaders to build cultural understanding.

A great example is Nevada's Clark County School District (CCSD). CCSD values culture in a deeply meaningful way with tremendous residual benefits. To engage Hispanic students, the CCSD Fine Arts Department developed an exemplary mariachi music program. They recruited mariachi teachers from across the country. The program is so popular, it now is in place at more than a dozen CCSD campuses. And, each year, the students perform for the city in a much-anticipated event.

3. Prepare for tomorrow
The third step is preparing today's children to learn and succeed in a global, digital world requiring a new set of skills. Information abounds in the 21st century. In fact, the pace of innovation means the amount of technical information in the world is doubling every two years. By 2010, it will double every three days. To be effective in the workplace, students must have well-developed functional and critical-thinking skills related to information, media, and technology.

Preparing children for success in college and the work world requires an educational approach based on personalized instruction and active engagement in the classroom. We are committed to providing curricula and instructional technology that achieve personalized instruction and actively engage every student. Differentiated instruction and intervention strategies are the necessary "opportunity gap" fillers that support the whole child.

These three approaches to teaching the whole child can be summarized by the famous words of Mark Twain: "I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." While teaching the mind is still our priority, we cannot succeed at that endeavor without embracing all the factors that go into learning—and that includes the heart and soul.

Once educators focus on the whole child, we will begin to widen the opportunities we provide to children of all backgrounds and abilities. Working together, teachers, administrators, researchers, and curriculum providers can build a better classroom to engage the whole child—today and tomorrow.

Arthur Griffin is a senior vice president at McGraw-Hill Education Urban Advisory Resource. Article is posted online at : http://www.ascd.org/ascd_express/vol4/410_griffin.aspx


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Tags: Mariachi Month, Mariachi, Mariachi Music, Arts Education, Socio-Economic Inequality, ASCD Express, Arthur Griffin, Excerpt, Importance of Education, Importance of Music Education, Importance of Arts Education, Education, Arts Education, Music Education
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