(All students are referred to as their character name to respect their privacy)
Last week T. C. Miller School of Innovation (TCM) celebrated the arts with its enchanting performances of Shrek Jr. The show began with Pinnochio warning us to silence our phones and not use flash photography and continued to Shrek and Donkey’s comedic quest to save the beautiful Princess Fiona. Each character dazzled the audience with their passion, enthusiasm, and joy.
Students in the third, fourth, or fifth grade worked hard this fall to put on the musical. For such a high level production, this is a quick turnaround for elementary schoolers. But, these students were prepared because of their experience in dance, show choir, step, art, and technology.
What makes the opportunities at TCM different from other schools with music, art, and after school activities?
The accessibility, environment, and variety.
TCM, like the other schools of innovation, opened as a public magnet school in 1993. In response to community desires, the school focused on arts. This magnet program, like Dearington and Dunbar, brings extra resources, opportunities, and experiences to marginalized students that do not have access to them.
All of the magnet programs were intentionally placed in Ward 2 because city planning during the early 1900s segregated the city by race and economics. Nearly all experts agree in these districts, funding, resources, and opportunities are more available at schools serving wealthier and whiter communities. Ward 2 has over 40% more students of color and a median income that is an average of 25,000 dollars lower. This stark disparity from the rest of the city caused schools in Ward 2 to have fewer opportunities.
Before Dearington transitioned to a school of innovation, visiting supervising teachers remarked that “they were shocked by the lack of resources. Everything, materials, textbooks, manipulatives.” Magnet schools are one tool to make an effort in balancing the scales between less advantaged and privileged communities. They provide additional resources and opportunities to students at school that wealthier parents can afford on their own.
Unlike the other elementary schools, the arts expand outside of resource classes. They are embedded into every class, inspire all afternoon options, and decorate the building. Students are inspired by colorfully painted classrooms, beautiful murals on the walls, and artwork in the halls, fostering their creativity.
(Mrs. Webb's first-grade class)
This learning environment connects with students who might not resonate with a traditional classroom, curriculum, or experience, and helps engage them and share why school is important.
This is what magnet programs are designed to do. And, they’ve been working.
Look at Shrek Jr. at TCM. TCM serves a zoned neighborhood that is predominantly students of color, students below the poverty line, and students without traditional households. Shrek Jr.s a representation of the diversity and beauty within our school community. It is a musical theater program that all 3rd through 5th graders can participate in, not just those that can afford outside programs available at the Fine Arts Academy and throughout the city.
It also challenges casting stereotypes and proudly showcases that students of color are central, normal, beautiful, and crucial parts of the arts scene.
Not in a side role.
Not on a scholarship.
Not as a token of diversity.
Not as a minority on stage.
A vital, needed, and wanted part of the show.
The kids on stage – main roles and chorus roles and everything in between – are truly representative of the community. I think that matters to the kids watching. To the parents. To our leaders. It creates a community for these students that shout “you are seen, and you are beautiful” in a world that doesn’t say it enough.
(Donkey, Princess Fiona, Shrek, and the forest on their journey.)
This experience means everything to these kids. As the fifth graders reflected at the end of the last show, they thanked teachers, like the music instructor Mrs. Coleman, each other, and the community at TCM. Princess Fiona told us after her last performance that “it was an honor to have [her] role and perform. That being in the musical the past three years has made her more confident, want to be at school, and continue participating in musicals at Dunbar and in high school.”
If it was 2025, and TCM had already closed, Princess Fiona’s dream might have not been realized, she might not have gained her confidence, nor her talents cultivated.
This will be the reality for many students, especially students of color, if the school board closes TCM. These opportunities will disappear.
A community of underrepresented artistic and musical elementary school students will disappear.
Classes immersed in the arts will disappear.
All teachers incorporate art into their lessons. Some use drumming to teach patterns and fractions, while others incorporate drawing to aid storytelling, or building life size igloos for social studies, or teaching poetry through music lyrics, teachers expand on their talents and infuse creativity in everything.
These experiences connect with students. They show them it's possible to explore their interests in school and make space for all students to excel. They keep them coming back to school.
In the long run, this might be one of the greatest impacts of TCM. It creates a space for students to see value in education and gets families engaged and eager to learn more about their interests.
For thousands of students, this has meant discovering a passion they carry on for years and skills that last them a lifetime. Like Princess Fiona, Donkey, and Shrek, many of our 5th graders are eager to go to Dunbar to perform in musicals in middle school. These young students will be following the path of many alumni before them. Year after year, students send TCM pictures of them and their castmates from TCM in their middle school, high school, and college performances. Beyond this, alumni resumes carry us all the way to Broadway and broadcast tv.
All these dreams started at TCM.
One alumni, Maddox Cole, reflected back on TCM, the culture that inspires students, and warns leaders of the consequences of closing the school.
“T.C. Miller is a school like no other. The teachers encouraged my creativity, and I learned how to be more social and confident. It is not an ordinary school, but it’s a school of creators and innovators. Taking a place like this away would be taking the opportunity I had away from future students.”
Closing will take away the opportunity of the younger students casted as the three little pigs and other background characters from ever having star roles in the musical. It ignores the significance of arts in education, undermining how they bring students together, bridge gaps, and provide a space for self-discovery. We question, just Max does, about whether these losses are ethical.
“Is it right to take away someone’s future? Or, not let them be the next inventor, writer, president, artist, baker, or nurse. Is it right to take away their ability to dream?”
Just like Max, we “ask you to keep [TCM] alive because not only is it a place to learn something, but it’s a place to become something.” Its art programs are not just a luxury—they are formative, and essential to retain and inspire students in school.
We need more of them, not less.
Let's keep advocating for the arts, for diversity, for the unique culture of T.C. Miller that sets it apart. Email school board members, follow our facebook, and join us at the next school board meeting.
As Shrek Jr. unfolds, so does the larger narrative—the importance of preserving a school that not only teaches something but allows students to become something extraordinary. #TCMillerArts #ShrekJr #ArtsInEducation