Uptown Public School Series: Education for the Whole Child

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How Audubon Charter School Nurtures
My Two Very Different Children

By Donishia S. Dorsey

In the fifth of our ten-essay series by parents of students at public schools Uptown, Donishia Dorsey writes about her children’s experience at Audubon Charter School Uptown. Like New Orleans as a whole, Uptown has many public school options for families—from college preparatory schools, to three different language immersion programs, to a Montessori program, to a technology career pathway school. In this series, we hear from parents themselves on why their child’s school is right for them.

My two children, Jackson and Chloe, are very different from one another. Chloe is in fifth grade, and she has a personality that doesn’t fit in a single room. She wants to be president someday. Jackson is is in  Pre-K 4. He’s younger than Chloe and still learning about himself. He’s quieter and loves puzzles. 

I was nervous that a single school could not nurture both of my children’s different strengths or meet their different needs, but Audubon Charter School Uptown does just that.

Audubon has both a Montessori and a French immersion program; Jackson and Chloe are in the Montessori program. The Montessori Method is a whole-child approach that allows children to learn at their own pace. Children learn both individually and in groups, working in longer blocks than in a normal class. Montessori programs emphasize cooperation and allow children to learn naturally and explore, while still helping them meet state academic standards and expectations. 

Jackson and his Pre-K 3 teacher, Ms. Mary Russell

This model is perfect for children with all sorts of personalities, that learn in all sorts of ways. It has been excellent for both Jackson and Chloe. Even though they are so different, Audubon is helping both my children find themselves. 

The curriculum is, quite literally, hands-on. They physically touch everything they’re learning about. In math, they use individual beads to learn to count, or stacks of beads to practice multiplication. They spell out words with plastic letters. It all feels like play, but they’re learning. Everything is a discovery, and the classroom is a place of joy and exploration. 

I struggled with test anxiety as a child, and sometimes it felt like my lessons were just memorization and regurgitating facts. I am glad it can be different for my kids. Where I feared failure as a student, they are being taught that mistakes are an opportunity for growth. 

Because of this, my children are growing in so many ways at their school—and not just from mistakes, but also from experiences and exploration. I’ve seen a transformation in Jackson, for instance, from one year to the next. When he showed up to his first day of school in Pre-K 3, he cried and cried. It was so hard for him. This year, it was completely different. He walked in like he owned the place, ready to teach the younger students what he knew.

Chloe has gotten to shine through the gifted and talented theater arts program. She’s had the same theater teacher, Ms. Dolly, for many years. She’s been in a production of “Hidden Figures,” which they performed at Jazz Fest. She has performed in the holiday play, the Thanksgiving play, a puppet show, and more. When she is up on that stage, she beams, and she’s learning the whole time. 

As they learn academically and artistically, they also grow personally. The school is very diverse, which is important to me, because our world is diverse, and I want my children to be able to interact with everyone in their community. Audubon embraces this idea. They tell students that they are all different feathers in the same flock, but they all fly together. This has been true, of course, within my family; my two children do have “different feathers,” but they are part of the same powerful school community. 

The whole family at a Saints game

That strong school community is something I was hoping for when I was searching for schools for my children. It is something I had, and I wanted it for them, too. I went to McDonogh 35 for high school. It was my dream to go there, because I knew that the people who graduated from 35 were leaders and great people. The great thing about 35 was that it was a community, and all the teachers had the same goal as all the parents: for children to succeed. I feel that Audubon is providing both the same level of community and education for my children. Just like at McDonogh 35, the parents and teachers are aligned on one thing: we want our children to be well-rounded, well-educated, happy, healthy individuals. 

And just as with 35, Audubon is graduating phenomenal leaders and scholars. I have seen this close to home; I have a number of family members that have graduated from Audubon. One of them, my cousin, now has a PhD in French literature and lives in Paris. That journey started at Audubon, where she learned French. 

I don’t know where my children’s journeys will lead. I hope Chloe’s will bring her to the presidency, just as she dreams of. I do know that Audubon has laid the foundation that will help both of my children thrive in the years ahead, no matter where life takes them.  

Audubon Charter School Uptown’s lower school is located at 428 Broadway Street, and its upper school is located at 1111 Milan Street. Enrollment for the 2020-2021 school year for Audubon and nearly all New Orleans public schools opens this fall through EnrollNOLA. You can find out more information at enrollnola.org or call or visit a Family Resource Center.

The New Orleans Uptown Public School Series is brought to you by New Schools for New Orleans in partnership with NOLA Messenger.

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