MeadowsLivingstone(MLS) is an elementary school in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District. Its director, Gail Meadows has been running the school for thirty four years. Over ninety percent of MLS graduates go on to college. This is the only Afro-Centric School in the city and children from all ethnicities are welcome.
This is a small school with an enrollment of twenty five students. Gail’s educational philosophy is to teach the whole child which includes strong academics, emotional wellbeing, physical fitness, political understanding, performance arts and cultural pride. The basic academics are taught along with Art, African Civilization, Swimming, African Dance and Drumming, Tennis, Wrestling, and Choir.
As Gail’s husband for the last almost forty-one years, I am slightly biased about her skills and gifts. She is very modest about her school’s accomplishments; something I believe she should shout out to the world. That is what I intend to do next.
Many of The MLS students begin their academic careers in schools public, private and charter where their parents report dissatisfaction.
The parents have the following issues with these schools they had previously selected for their children: In some cases, they encountered scripted curricula that was not conducive to imaginative teaching. Teachers too often feel pressured to teach to the high-stakes standardized tests and some aren’t adequately trained in the cultural competency skills they need to teach a diverse student population. Large class sizes make it difficult to give kids the attention they need.
Gail believes every child is capable of learning and if the student is unhappy with her life, has little to no self-confidence and has had no positive educational experiences she will not do well in school.
If the child’s racial or ethnic identity is ridiculed or ignored; she will not perform up to her academic ability.
If the child’s parents are not supported in helping their children succeed, their children will probably fail.
The MLS school environment is filled with unconditional love where children know that they are valued and cared about as soon as they first enter the school. She is patient and has a unique way of dealing with students when they act out. Instead of merely punishing kids for wrong doing, she asks them to give her a play by play description of their infraction. She breaks it down where they exercised bad judgment and asks them to create a plan on what to do if that situation presents itself again. They are expected to change this behavior and Gail works with the children as well as their parents in addressing their problems.
Gail is directly involved in all aspects of her school. She knows that if a child suddenly discovers that he can dance, this will lift his self-esteem and his openness to learn something totally outside his previous experience. She will help the student reflect on this new discovery and come back to it when she feels it will be helpful.
The students at Meadows-Livingstone School learn about Black History/Herstory. They learn about leaders such as Rosa Parks, Malcom X, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Madam C.J. Walker, Thurgood Marshall, Josephine Baker, Althea Gibson and Angela Davis.
Gail connects the leader’s courage with her student’s inner bravery. This helps them understand the African American past and present struggles. It also gives them faith that they too can be leaders, heroes and heroines.
Her students know that nothing but their best efforts are acceptable whether it be Writer’s Workshop, Art or free play at recess. Gail has an infectious smile that warms the hearts of her students. She teaches them that it is important to develop an inner core and character where the child can look to herself to assess how she is doing rather than relaying totally on the feedback of peers or adults.
I have observed her school for years and have been the on-site psychotherapist. When I was in elementary school, I experienced teachers who did not like me and I knew they believed that I was stupid and lacked any qualities for good citizenship. I know the long lasting devastating effect that this message has on children as they grow older.
Gail’s energy gives her students the opposite of that. Imagine going to school every day and knowing that your teacher loves you no matter what. This factor folds neatly into the joy of learning that Gail’s methods inspire.
Her former students have become doctors, nurses, lawyers, actors, park rangers, teachers, college professors, comedians, college and graduate students.
Examples of Positive Change: The girl who starts out talking viciously behind her peers back and then finds the means to find friendship and ways to comfort them when they are having a hard day. This same student who refused to give much effort now exerting herself at every opportunity. The boy who believed his learning disability prevented him from success is now putting forth the effort to achieve. The girl who doubted she had any ability to perform was now shining as a singer and dancer throughout the city. The girl who declared on a regular basis that she was stupid, is now reading way beyond grade level.
I am always amazed when the school day ends because most of the kids don’t leave. They feel this sense of community and validation that we all long for. Gail actually has to tell the kids to leave so she can come home.
The end of school celebration which is a rite of passage for African American children is called Steppin’ Up and Steppin’ On. This ceremony is more a revival of the human spirit than a simple graduation. Tears, laughter, singing, dancing and praise for academic performances are honored with grace and ferocity.
Her school is an oasis in the middle of a huge storm. MLS has been praised in The San Francisco Chronicle and Bay Guardian. Maybe one day you can check it out. If you want to find out more about The MeadowsLivingstone School, click here http://www.meadowslivingstoneschool.com/