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Celebrating Genius and Joy at Northside Schools

By July 27, 2021Foundation Blog
students standing in line holding instruments

“What about joy?”

This was the question – the hope – voiced by a group of North Minneapolis educators and parents when asked what the Phillips Family Foundation should focus on this summer.

When the rest of the world was fixated on correcting “learning loss” and the “COVID slump,” this group, which serves as a standing advisory committee to the Phillips Family Foundation, set us on a different course.  Rather than focusing on deficits, they suggested, Phillips should support educators who are ready to create joyful, culturally grounded, in-person learning opportunities this summer. Summer schools that deepen relationships between Northside educators and their students, and that celebrate the richness of their community.

With this mandate, I set to work finding these extraordinary educators. I soon learned that the “joy” identified by Phillips Advisory Committee was a piece of a larger teaching strategy developed by a professor at Georgia State University named Gholdy Muhammad. Dr. Muhammad’s Historically Responsive Literacy Framework, which she shares in her 2020 book Cultivating Genius, has garnered widespread attention and excitement among educators seeking strategies to unleash the inherent genius of their Black and Brown students. It was the subject of many book clubs over the past year and is a central influence in Minneapolis Public Schools’ recently announced literacy strategy.

Along with joy, Dr. Muhammad encourages educators to create learning experiences that enable students to critically assess their social context, deeply explore their own identity, demonstrate knowledge in practical ways, and build strong academic skills. You can learn more about Dr. Muhammad’s Historically Responsive Literacy Framework here.

With so many educators avidly reading about Dr. Mohammad’s ideas on how to weave joy and her other learning pillars into literacy instruction, I was heartened to find many teachers and administrators at Northside schools who were excited about the prospect of putting her ideas into practice this summer.  With help from the Advisory Committee, Phillips invited applications from these educators, and our Advisors selected eight projects at five schools to receive funding.

These projects reflect a wide range of exciting learning options for Northside students, including a deep dive into local sports history, a digital photography class in which students will create their own portfolios, and an intensive marching band camp at North High School where middle and high schoolers – many of whom have never played instruments – are preparing for a community performance at the end of July.

I have visited the marching band camp once so far, and I am amazed at what this team of incredible music educators and students are creating. Their performance on Friday, July 30 is going to blow the roof off North High School’s auditorium!

All eight Genius & Joy summer programs are exciting learning opportunities for both students and educators. The Phillips Family Foundation is proud to support this innovative work, and incredibly grateful to our Northside Education Advisory Committee for their insight and hard deliberations, which made it all possible.

Most Genius & Joy projects run from August 2-13. If you are a Northside family looking for a great summer learning option for your student(s), you can find registration information for all of these programs here.

Joel Luedtke

Author Joel Luedtke

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