Neighborhood Celebration: Check out North Atlanta High

As we mentioned yesterday, we’d planned to do a series of little profiles of each school that will participate in Saturday’s inaugural Neighborhood Celebration. And just as we were planning to solicit information from the respective schools, new and really impressive information was already flowing in! Yesterday we gave a little peek at the cool things going on at Jackson Elementary and Sutton Middle.

Today we turn our attention to host school North Atlanta, where there always seems to be something interesting and creative going on. Sure enough, there is, starting with this evening: The North Atlanta High School Jazz Band will perform as part of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra‘s 2009-10 Conversations of Note series at Atlanta Symphony Hall. The series explores how art, history and society intertwine.

Doing the intertwining tonight will be none other than legendary New Orleans jazz trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis. The pre-lecture performance begins at 6:35 p.m., followed by the lecture at 7 p.m. Marsalis will be joined by ASO Conductor Robert Spano and ASO program annotator Ken Meltzer in a discussion “Exploring the Marriage of Jazz & Classical” music. We can’t think of a more representative group for this discussion, or a high school band to provide some early mood music. Hats off to North Atlanta program director Reginald Colbert.

North Atlanta is also gearing up for its annual Fall Dance Concert, scheduled for Nov. 19-20. This one will be a very special one as the school will pay tribute to dance instructor Antonio Silk, who passed away this summer. (More on Antonio Silk’s contributions in a future Talk Up APS post.)

But North Atlanta isn’t just about the arts. We learned this week about English instructor Dr. Tara A. Abydos-Harris program called La Comunidad. She was kind enough share this with us in an email:

La Comunidad© is a solutions-based professional development model that I developed for teachers of limited cultural, linguistic, and experiential proficiency of black and Latino students. Also included in La Comunidad© is a supplemental instructional model for teachers to use in the classroom. As the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in reading education from the University of Georgia, I have committed myself for over a decade to improving the academic, social, and linguistic identities of black and Latino students.

Upon learning about the White House Initiative’s Community Conversation on Latino education, I immediately thought that it would be a great opportunity for some of our Latino students at North Atlanta to attend. So, I decided to take eight of my students to the event. I was supported by our principal, Mark Mygrant, in my efforts. The aim of the conversation was to provide answers to the following two questions: How can Latino education be improved?, and, What should the White House Initiative be doing to spearhead those efforts?

Two of my students volunteered to participate in the panel discussion where individual concerns were raised, and all of my students participated in the small-group breakout sessions. Each student offered personal testimonies, answers to the two questions given by the White House, and advice to President Barack Obama. All of the information generated from this event was recorded and collected by White House staffers and will be presented to President Obama to serve as the foundation for a new presidential executive order to help steer the White House’s efforts to improve education for Latinos in America.

I did not expect Juan Sepulveda — the White House executive director of the Initiative — to be so generous with his time. Mr. Sepulveda spent what would have been his lunch break in between sessions with my students. One of the strategies of the La Comunidad© Professional Development Model encourages teachers to expose black and Latino students to successful, positive people who share a similar history, language, and culture. Therefore, I simply took a seat and allowed my students to engage with Mr. Sepulveda, someone who they later expressed shared a similar background. My students told me that they found Mr. Sepulveda to be a “great inspiration” because he, too, grew up as a Mexican-American in a poor, working-class neighborhood.

As you can imagine, the students have received a great amount of attention because of their efforts, just recently our principal, Mr. Mygrant, approved an interview with the Buckhead Reporter. The students will also be interviewed and featured in a story for the Associated Press.

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