Teacher Feature: Sammy Rigaud
Throughout our work at IPaintMyMind, we run into some of the most amazing, awe-inspiring teachers out there. We work with teachers who are rigorously committed to molding caring, creative, and whole children who will be well equipped to take on the world, and make it a better place. Our teachers have persevered without adequate pay, through educational inequity and under-resourcing, and a year of virtual learning. We want to uplift and celebrate the voices of these passionate folks, while we also provide them resources and a network of support.
Our Teacher Feature today happens to be someone who we didn’t meet through our Shared Walls art programming. Sammy Rigaud is an elementary school teacher in Atlanta, Georgia, and a friend of IPMM Founder Evan La Ruffa. Sammy’s unique teaching style exemplifies his connection and commitment to his students, and his drive for pursuing equity in education. Sammy has been working with IPMM to expand our programs geographically, and bring resources to public schools across the country.
He’s also an upcoming star of our soon to be released podcast (!!!), so stay tuned for an inspiring conversation between him and Evan La Ruffa.
An Unlikely Path To Becoming A Teacher
Sammy Rigaud grew up in North Miami, Florida. As a young person, he had a brush with the law. He was sentenced to do community service at his neighborhood YMCA, as a supervisor and instructor for kids. He fell in love with the experience, and decided to become a teacher.
For Sammy, teaching has always been healing and reparative. As a black man and a Haitian-American, he recognized that students can feel as though the education system wasn’t built for them. He felt as though he was often misunderstood and preemptively labelled when he was a student, and makes a special effort to uplift and encourage students that look like him and come from a similar background.
He has also understood, from a very young age, how race and class determine the way that funding is allocated for education in this country. Across the country, public education funding has been slashed for decades. As the rift between private and public schools grows, wealthy children get access to the resources and materials that poorer kids don’t. Even within public school systems, unequal funding structures funnel money into richer neighborhood schools, and close down “underperforming” aka under-resourced schools. It’s true in Chicago, Atlanta, and most major American cities.
A Fresh (And Fresh) Approach To Education
Sammy Rigaud is best known for his music performances with his classroom, which call themselves the Hive. He makes music with his students, using dance, hiphop, and rap to help his students learn and get excited about school. A clip of some of his students went viral last year, as part of a system he implemented where anyone who got above an 80% on a weekly assignment got to freestyle. Besides being a ton of fun and bringing joy to the end of the week, the Freestyle Fridays were an impetus for increased class participation, and a sharp uptick in grading averages.
Sammy subscribes to the HipHop Education Movement, a pedagogy that raises up rap, dance, graffiti, and DJing as four pillars to further involve students in learning. Activities like Freestyle Fridays are a way that Sammy works to make his students feel seen, proud, and excited about class.
As a black teacher, teaching at majority black or nonwhite schools, Sammy feels that it’s important that his students’ experience is reflected in their teachers. He thinks that it aids a genuine connection, trust, and the ability to communicate effectively and deeply with students.
The Chasm In Education Goes A Lot Deeper Than The Digital Divide
As funding for public school systems decreases, it’s often accompanied by a mass exodus of high-quality, committed teachers. The real wages of public school teachers have been falling for a while, and partnered with hollowed-out benefits, the best teachers often flee with the money. They need better pay and benefits to support their families, and crave the resources and support network of a better funded school or school system. We need more teachers like Sammy, sticking around for the long haul, and believing in the students who so often get left behind.
However, we shouldn’t expect them to work for pennies just because they love and believe in their job. Covid-19 has even more starkly revealed the positive role of teachers in the lives of students, both academically and emotionally. Our teachers deserve better than what they’ve been given, and it’s our job to make sure that excellent teachers like Sammy Rigaud get the compensation and support they need to do their jobs right. Get involved in your Local School Council, school board, or PTA, and advocate for the folks that advocate for your young student.
If you’re a teacher, looking to access free resources around art and art history, check out our blog! And for a comprehensive curriculum-building tool full of lesson plans and fun extras, learn more about IPMM’s Art Education Curriculum.
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