Reflecting on Black History Month, Shontoria Walker says, "my schoolhouse was my family" and that this community inspired her. Now, as an English teacher at KIPP Polaris Academy for Boys, she is inspiring the next generation of students.
Shontoria Walker had teachers who looked like her—as did the business owners, doctors, councilwomen, and writers who visited the school. "I was shown what success could look like in the future," she says. Yet it wasn't just professional success that was modeled; it was "character and life skills," she says. "In this schoolhouse, I learned perseverance, resilience, kindness, accountability and, most importantly, confidence."
In a commentary that appeared in educationpost.org, Walker stressed that expectations in her elementary school were high, and excellence was demanded.
She recalled that there was a library in the barbershop across the street where she and her fellow students read books that inspired them as they worked on their homework while waiting for their parents. "We picked pecans from the neighborhood trees and nearby grass lots," she wrote, "and conducted field lessons in the trails and pathways outside of the school building."
The visits of prominent black professionals to the classroom "fed our imaginations," Walker wrote. She was told that she could be whatever she wanted to be and was given living examples. She expressed sadness that because of financial hardships and low enrollment, Robert C. Chatham Elementary School—which for so long had nurtured children like Walker—closed in 2007.
Walker's experience is consistent with the findings of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture's School Culture and Student Formation Project, published in The Content of Their Character: "What these case studies also consistently show is the importance of the informal articulation of a moral culture through the example of teachers and other adults in the school community. The moral example of teachers unquestionably complemented the formal instruction students received, but arguably, it was far more poignant to, and influential upon, the students themselves. Certainly, this was the impression in the trenches."
Certainly, that was Walker's experience. It was also the experience of Eric Motley.
Eric Motley grew up in Madison Park, Alabama. In this beautiful essay, he describes a cultural world like the one that shaped Walker in her childhood. The essay, and Madison Park, A Place of Hope from which it is excerpted, provide outstanding primary source material for secondary teachers to show students the hope that Motley and Walker experienced as children.