Andrew Campanella: Vineville Academy of the Arts has an incredible focus on the arts, but what else makes your school unique?
Kristy Graham, principal: We’re a “Leader in Me” school, which is based on Sean Covey and Stephen Covey’s seven habits of highly effective people. We piloted the Leader in Me program and the community supported it 100%. They funded it, they came behind us and said, “We want to be a part of guiding children for the future to be leaders, to be proactive, to synergize and put first things first.” So they supported the first four schools and now our entire district is a Leader in Me district.
Because we are a magnet school and a fine arts school, we have lots of tours that come through our school. Our children step up, greet visitors eye to eye, beaming with pride, and say things like, “Hi, my name is Isabella. I want to show you what our school is all about. Please follow me to the fine arts floor.”
They have that confidence and pride to talk about their school and all the great things happening here. When you bond with the community and you have that open-door policy where they can visit and ask questions, you are transparent and you share the celebrations every day. That’s what keeps parents excited, the community excited and the children excited. – Kristy Graham
Andrew: Vineville Academy has a powerfully positive culture. Tell me more about that.
Kristy: One thing we do is make sure that we are helping students say that everything’s possible and anything’s possible. This year our theme is that you have to be incredible. Be a leader, be a dreamer, be incredible. Whatever you’re doing, make sure that you are the best you can be at it. It may not be as good as someone else, but if it’s your best, then you’re being incredible. We try at all times to make sure that students are being respectful and responsible, prepared and safe, and it is a happy place when you come here. You’re not going to see children anything but excited about learning. I know it sounds like I’m bragging and I am a little bit because I love it here, I know I have the best job in the world. They are excellent children. Just having that love every day and saying our morning pledge and doing our walk together means so much to our parents, our teachers, our faculty, and our students. They just know we love them and we know they love us. It keeps me young having 595 children hug me every single day.
Andrew: Why is school choice important and why is it helpful for families to have options like yours?
Kristy: Parents should be able to trust that when they drop their child off each day, they’re leaving them in an environment that’s going to bring creativity to them, bring love to them, shine new experiences on them, help them to thrive in all that they do, and build their inner confidence. When you can bring that type of choice to a parent, you can say, “You know what, we’re a little bit different. Our children think differently. We may sing a lot, dance a lot and you may see a lot of different colors and art and vibrant music playing when you walk into our foyer. But the difference in your child you will see in a week.” And the great thing is when you have parents who have moved away who come back that say, “Oh my goodness, I want to be a part of this school again. It’s definitely not the same when you go somewhere else.” We want our school to be different and loving and exciting and our children to be happy every day.
I believe that a parent is a child’s first teacher. The parent knows the child better than anyone else. When they bring them to school each day, they should have the freedom of choice to find a school that’s going to love them as much as they do and care for them.- Kristy Graham
Andrew: What is the biggest misconception about magnet programs?
Kristy: I’m not sure that everyone understands. When some think of a fine arts school they think it’s just a lot of children drawing and coloring and cutting and pasting, and they don’t really see us as an academic school. I always express that we are a school that’s providing a school choice for students that is well-rounded and improving their communication skills and leadership skills. We are a place that’s vital in preparing students to be successful in almost every career path. It says a lot when you have every classroom maxed out at 25 students, and if you had 25 more rooms, you could max them out as well, because parents love having the choice to bring their children to a place that’s like this that’s preparing students for the future.
Andrew: How do you celebrate National School Choice Week?
Kristy: We start School Choice Week with a pep rally every year, which is very exciting. We try to bring in one of our partners, which is the Mercer Bears. Toby is their bear and [our mascot] is a panda bear. Their cheerleaders are also partners with us and they do a big pep rally with us. Our children in grades three through five always write essays about why they chose Vineville and what Vineville means to them. Then our younger grades, our pre-K through second grade, create posters and talk about why school choice is important to them. We also have a yellow day. We have a different event every day. What I actually thought about for this year is how great would it be to have our parents compete? I want to hear why they chose Vineville! Right now it’s 98 degrees but I promise you, if I gave scarves out today, every child would be wearing their school choice scarf because they mean that much to them.
Andrew Campanella is president of National School Choice Week.
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