Diamonds in the rough

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Elizabeth Lovett
Elizabeth Lovett

By Elizabeth Lovett
elizabeth.lovett@knox.kyschools.us

“Diamonds in the rough” is a term used to describe someone that has exceptional future potential, but currently lacks opportunities and/or experiences that would have them stand out from the crowd. This is the term that comes to my mind when I think of the students in my district.

I am a transplant to Knox County, a small, rural region with a poverty level above 60 percent. Families in my community struggle just to provide for basic needs. With minimal job opportunities, the tax base for funding the school district is much less than other districts in more affluent areas. Most job opportunities have earning potential at the current minimum wage. Over the past 25 years, industry and other businesses have slowly moved their production to other states or overseas.

This is where I have the privilege to provide music opportunities for students. Growing up in a large city, I was afforded opportunities and experiences during my school career that gave me the desire to provide a quality music education to students that they otherwise would not have.

As professional educators, we have to ask ourselves several questions. Why do our students lack opportunities and/or experiences? Don’t all of our students have a right to a public education with the same opportunities and/or experiences students in other districts have? What can be done to provide opportunities and/or experiences that will develop and enhance this often-dormant potential? What will it take to increase funding to ensure that high quality educators are here for future students?

In 1990, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled the way our public school system was funded was unconstitutional. The justices said the Commonwealth’s funding system was inefficient and discriminated against students in the poorer districts. There were steps taken to correct this, however, since this ruling 25 years ago, inefficient and insufficient funding for these districts is gradually increasing. With school funding decreasing, students are denied experiences that are more readily available to students in more affluent areas. For example, field trip opportunities are far and few between due to transportation costs.

I am proud of the hardworking educators in my district and I am honored to have the opportunity to work with them. Despite the roadblocks and barriers to deep learning, we are a top 10 most-improved district with one distinguished, two proficient, and the rest of the schools progressing.

In order to ensure that our students show success, my colleagues sacrifice. They take away numerous hours of time from their families for their students, and many have second jobs to help make ends meet. The average teacher salary is approximately $2,500 less than surrounding districts and approximately $5,000 less than the more affluent districts across the state.

As an itinerant music teacher that serves six elementary schools (grades 3-6), it is my greatest pleasure to provide music opportunities to more than 900 students. The raw talent found here constantly amazes me. A majority of these students have never had the opportunity to hear an orchestra, see a Broadway play/musical, attend a ballet, go to an art museum or have other experiences found in the larger cities of Louisville or Lexington.

Several years ago, a student with an exceptional voice, auditioned and was accepted in the Kentucky Music Educators Association Junior High Chorus. This was his first trip to Louisville and he was so astounded and fascinated by watching the escalators moving that we were afraid he would trip and fall. He is only one of many students here that have never seen something as simple as an escalator.

Only a small number of these students will ever leave this region, either to attend college, move or take a trip. Studies have proved that the more educational opportunities children are given, the greater impact it has on closing the achievement gap.  Providing adequate funding for students in these schools will increase educational opportunities and provide more impact on closing the achievement gap.

Diamonds in the rough is the term I use to describe my students. They all have exceptional potential. Finding answers and solutions to provide them with experiences and opportunities to help enhance their education should be the greatest concern by everyone across the state, from the governor and state senators to state representatives and local school board members. Working together, I believe that we will find solutions to the lack of experiences and opportunities for students and inequities in school funding.

We all have a responsibility to ensure that all students are given the best education possible. Not making this a priority would most definitely be our greatest downfall. Are you willing to sacrifice your own gain? What are you willing to do to ensure these students are transformed into the sparkling diamonds they are meant to be?

 

Beth Lovett has been an itinerant music teacher in the Knox County school district for more than 19 years. She was a semifinalist for the 2015 Kentucky Teacher of the Year, and recipient of the Ashland Teacher Achievement Award. Lovett participates with the Innovative Teacher Leader Cohort, is vice president for the Kentucky Education Associations (KEA) Upper Cumberland Education Association, Knox County Education Association, a member of KEA’s Arts and Humanities core planning team, KEA’s Arts and Humanities training cadre and is a Hope Street Group Kentucky State Teacher Fellow.

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