By: Chelsea Montes de Oca

When I think back to my favorite teachers as a kid, many who stick out were ones who incorporated creative expression into their lessons. The ones who let us make movies, perform skits, write songs and find a way to incorporate it into those “notoriously boring” classes like Science or English. One of my favorite projects in high school was being able to write and illustrate a children’s story book in a Marine Biology class. I learned from experiences like that more than I ever did exploring a textbook.

I noticed many things about the public school system when I first started working at an inner city school. Students seemed to be doing way more standardized testing than I ever remember as a kid.Teachers frequently had to teach in a very specific way because of those tests. Many of my students had electives like reading essentials or math tutoring instead of art or music. This is not to say that creative lesson planning wasn’t happening or that artistic electives weren’t being offered.But in a system that in some ways values core content achievement over unique expression, arts programs sometimes suffer. The beauty of City Year is that it can fill that void. A part of our job is to find those specific and unique ways individual students learn. We get to know our students on a personal level so that when they don’t understand a lesson, we can creatively adapt it and teach to them.

One of my favorite parts of being a first year Corps member last year was when I had the opportunity to run a photography club after school. I’ve loved photography since I was in middle school and it was a joy to share that passion with my students. My goal for the club was to teach technical skills while also displaying photography as a form of artistic expression. The club was an overall success and my students learned a lot. I didn’t see the true impact I had until I read a note I received on the last day of school. The note read: “Dear Ms. Chelsea, You taught me in my English class but I was also in your photography club. You taught me how to take a great picture and now I’m in love with creative art. I know I am going to miss you a lot”.

It dawned on me that what kept me in school as a kid were opportunities for creative art. They were just as important because they inspired me to continue working towards a greater goal. It was humbling to realize my photo club helped a student realize a path that they may not have been shown to them before.

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