Written by Mia Ruffin, AmeriCorps member serving on the Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation Team at Winbourne Elementary School.

City Year corps members are placed in targeted schools to maximize local strategies and to support community conducive to joyful learning. Our service rests not only on presence and energy, but as also, on creativity and care. Creativity is found in-house as well, from inventive PE coaches to patient piano instructors. 

Meet Winbourne Elementary’s art teacher, Mr. Eric Pogue. Originally from Shreveport, LA, Mr. Pogue has been at Winbourne for almost ten years. Mr. Pogue has a story relatable to many. After graduation, he found purpose in a place he did not initially expect: the classroom. In his interview, he discusses how he began working at Winbourne along with the significance of art in childhood.

Share your career background and aspirations.
I’ve been working with EBR parish for approximately nine years. I worked as the TOR moderator for the first eight and this is my first year actually teaching art. I came into the system because I was doing a contract for the Corps of Engineers and we had a break. I decided to sub until the next contract came up. I found that the kids listened to me and it was rewarding. I felt like I was giving something back.

I’ve always liked art, and my degree [from Southern University] is in art. I’ve had galleries and art shows. My aspirations include opening a nonprofit that connects art and students, or anyone with a newfound interest in art. I already have a name for it. I have it registered with the state. I’ve submitted a grant to local foundations. That has motivated me to stay within the system, to build my experience with students.

What are some of your favorite art styles?
Honestly my favorite form of art is Realism. And Surrealism. And abstract art… I pretty much like them all!

Who are some of your favorite artists?
Monet, I’m a fan of Monet. Michelangelo and Leonardo De Vinci. I’m also a musician too, so I like anything soulful.

How do you plan to bring your inspirations into the classroom?
As for the arts, when I used to create, it would be late at night with my favorite music on. If I had a romantic interest at the time or had some challenging issues, they would inspire me to do some work. So, I try to let the kids know that [in my classroom] they can have find sort of relief. They can unwind and put their expressions in their work as long as it is not vulgar, violent or sexual.

What about the instances in which the kids have been exposed to mature traumas?
How do you redirect that and still keep their expression genuine? - If it’s anger, I let them display it without the use of violence. Instead of drawing blood or acts of violence, I encourage them to use other art techniques to share themselves.

What do you find unique about Winbourne’s students? 
With it being an inner city school, a lot of them are very understanding. Most of them just want a hug. They want to know that they are being loved. By home being so challenging and with this being an economically challenging part of town, those hugs come too far in-between. If they know that you’re sincere about them, they’ll listen.

In consideration of the stigma often placed on inner-city schools, do you think Winbourne Elementary surpasses those expectations? 
A lot of the times substitutes will come and realize that it’s different here. They often want to stay here. Don’t get me wrong, we have our classroom challenges just as everybody does. They would rather be here because the students have structure and respect. It’s all about modeling to the kids the appropriate behavior. When visitors come, they are overwhelmed with how quiet the cafeteria and the halls are. Our students walk with order and are considerate of people who pass by, giving them a chance to pass before themselves. They don’t try to Bogart the hallways.

How do you plan to use your class to promote whole-student growth? 
I start my class with a lecture about classroom etiquette and respecting authority. I talk about the importance of home, community and the public, especially amongst their peers. I tell them that rules are everywhere they go. Even I have rules and guidelines that I have to abide by, and when I don’t follow them there are consequences. We all have to respect the authority above us, and I give them a chance to correct their mistakes.

What’s happening in the class right now?
I’m exposing them to the different styles and forms of art. All the colors and shapes. I’m building a foundation now so that they can identify their own tastes and find their own identity.

City Year nationally serves in schools that many see as low-functioning, forgotten and filled with delinquents. This is could not be further from the truth. Our students have infinite potential and capacity; our schools have professionals with awe-inspiring competence and care. Mr. Pogue stands as example of this: expression and mentorship are both futile without the other.

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