Editor's note: I'm very excited to share this guest post from Soulsville Charter School writing teacher Trakela Weaver. Here's an insider's look at the school, which provides a unique, music-based education for kids in the Soulsville neighborhood.
When I first started teaching at The Soulsville Charter School (TSCS) here in Memphis, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. The sense of community is almost overwhelming. The music permeates the campus.
There’s always music playing in the parking lot. There’s music coming out of most classrooms as teachers play songs from string quartets for the students to listen to as they work. All of the students learn an instrument, as orchestra is a required class.
When they hear the name Otis, they don’t just think of the song by Kanye and Jay-Z. They can tell you who Otis Redding was, and if you pick the right student, you may get treated to a special rendition of “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.” If you walk up to one and sing “I’m a soul man!” one will definitely mimic the trumpet in response.
We're in the heart of Soulsville, USA: a small South Memphis neighborhood comprised of the Stax Museum, the Stax Music Academy, our school, and the surrounding community. Most of the 500 or so students who attend TSCS come from the area around the school.
Our school is built on five core values: community, respect, integrity, scholarship, and empathy. We reward or students with Grammys, acknowledging positive actions of theirs that correlate with those core values.
This creates the kids who aren’t just smart – they’re good people. They’re helpful and considerate, and it’s genuine. They do the right thing. They’ll hold the door for anyone. They pick up trash when they pass it. They don’t let me carry too much as I float from class to class. Even when they do the wrong thing, they feel sorry for it and try to change it. It’s amazing to witness.
The people at Soulsville aren’t just kind to those in our community. We also show that we care about those in other communities as well. The 7th grade brought in over 400 canned goods for the homeless. They’ve volunteered at the Memphis Union Mission, and our high school students took it upon themselves to raise money for children in Sudan. More than once this year, stray and neglected puppies found themselves in the dean of curriculum’s office while emails to get them adopted circulated the school.
Stax’s influence on music is incontestable. In a few years, the impact Soulsville is having with these kids will be just as undeniable. If you haven’t checked out the museum yet, you definitely should. While you’re there, take a few steps over to see the revolution that’s happening at Soulsville for yourself.
About the author:
Trakela Weaver is a Memphis native and writing teacher at The Soulsville Charter School. She is a graduate of the Memphis Teacher Residency, and holds a Master of Urban Education from Union University, and a Bachelor of Science from Christian Brothers University.