A Commitment to Enrichment

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by Preston Smith
Co-Founder & CEO

“The President and I reject the notion that arts, history, science, writing, foreign language, physical education, geography and civics are ornamental offerings that can or should be cut from school when times are tough,” Arne Duncan said during the 114th Annual National PTA Convention. “In fact, in the information age, a well-rounded curriculum is not a luxury but a necessity.”

Most educators agree enrichment is key, yet nearly four million students around the country don’t have access to programs focusing on curricula like the visual arts. In high-poverty schools, students are twice as likely to go without enrichment programs. With per-pupil funding 20 percent less than it was forty years ago, an ideological support for enrichment programs isn’t enough. Districts and networks must reflect on how to expand meaningful enrichment offerings. Rocketship is no exception.

When we opened Mateo Sheedy to 160 Rocketeers in 2007, our school model had many forms of enrichment embedded in the day and learning lab. A year later, the budgets crashed in California; our enrichment offerings took a hit as well. We still had enrichment – just a lot less of it.

However, in the past few years, we’ve innovated to bring back a truly holistic model complemented with rich enrichment programs. Rocketship has greatly expanded our offerings and broadened our focus to include social emotional curricula. Each of our schools offer two to four enrichment classes selected by school leaders, in addition to physical education, in an effort to design a balanced educational experience aligned to each school’s unique needs.

Today, I am deeply proud of our holistic model serving more than 6,000 Rocketeers. Yes, it has areas where it can grow and improve. Yet, our schools offer a diverse range of experiences and lessons each and every day that unfortunately is often not available in many other traditional public schools, especially in low-income communities.

I personally have a great deal of gratitude for Rocketship’s dedicated enrichment coordinators. So do our Rocketeers. Here’s what they had to say about some of their favorite enrichment classes:

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Preston co-founded Rocketship Education in San Jose with John Danner in 2006. Prior to founding Rocketship, Preston was founder and Principal of L.U.C.H.A. Elementary School, part of the Alum Rock Unified School District in San Jose, CA. After its first three years of operation, L.U.C.H.A. was the fourth highest performing low-income elementary school in California. Preston began his career in education as a Teach for America (TFA) Corps member at Clyde Arbuckle Elementary School (CA). In 2003, Preston was named “Teacher of the Year” at Arbuckle and was also nominated as one of six finalists for TFA’s Sue Lehmann award, given to TFA corps members with the highest classroom academic gains in the nation. Preston is also an Aspen New Schools Fellow.

Follow Preston on Twitter: @prestondsmith 

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