Why We Must Renew the Best Starts for Kids Levy


Most people, when asked what ‘M.D.’ stands for, usually answer: ‘medical doctor.’ Although this is true, it’s not the whole definition. An M.D is also classified as allopathic doctor, or a primary care physician who uses drugs, radiation, or surgery to heal. When asked what ‘N.D.’ stands for, they usually take a little longer to answer definitively. ‘N.D.’ stands for naturopathic doctor, or a primary care physician who blends centuries-old knowledge and a philosophy that nature is the most effective healer with current research on health and human systems.

Both are classified as physicians. Both practice medicine and have the same goal, which is to heal the patient. However, they have different approaches to this healing. Different yet complementary. When seeking healthcare, our choices are often limited by the information that we hold. I use this as an example because we relate to it.

In our school system we face similar challenges with the primary-room teacher and the teaching artist. We have the same goal, yet different and complementary approaches. In the school system, we have the primary classroom teacher (my vision of allopathic) and the teaching artist (my vision of naturopathic). We are all familiar with and understand the role of the primary classroom teacher. Yet as a teaching artist, most times people will ask: “What is a teaching artist, please explain?”

A teaching artist is a teacher and educator, who is trained (usually college educated or higher) and equipped to use their artistic discipline (dance, visual, poetry, music, theater, etc.) as a vehicle to learn and educate groups of people. In this instance, K-12 students. As a teaching artist myself, I strive to activate curiosity and consciousness in students, equipping them with tools that are useful in navigating not only the classroom, but also life experiences and circumstances. I emphasize play, exploration, examination, and self-referral as primary ways of educating and teaching.

Best Starts for Kids (BSK) funding allows the primary classroom teacher and the teaching artist to coexist and expand the circle of learning for a well-rounded education with the student. I have years of experience as a teaching artist, working within school systems that are usually limited by city and non-profit organization funding. Although appreciated, the resources and support are usually time-sensitive, and as a result, services go away.

BSK allows teaching artists the time, funding, and resources to provide a variety of arts opportunities that cultivate both relationship and trust building, two things that are imperative for successful outcomes in young people. 

BSK supports multiple avenues of learning during school time as well as out-of-school time — a period of the day that is high-risk for adolescence and youth. It is not one dimensional. Providing opportunities in the school building and in other community spaces like housing developments and community centers is an integral ingredient for teaching artists and educators to take the art to where the students already are. 

BSK provides arts organizations like Arts Corps and professional teaching artists the opportunity to serve Black and Brown children, youth, and families.

BSK ensures that we as educators have the infrastructure and support necessary to create and develop culturally-sensitive pedagogical lesson plans designed for the populations we serve. Cultural and visual arts, etc. expand and complement primary classroom teachers’ knowledge, skills, and lesson plans.

BSK benefits our region’s schools by offering additional resources when budgets for the arts are cut in favor of other priorities. The multiplicity of art, whether dance, poetry, visual art, sculpting, music, theater, or song, adds an element of surprise, curiosity, excellence, and possibility for the student.

We hope you will vote ‘YES’ on KC Prop 1 in the upcoming August 3rd Primary and Special Election so that the learning can continue!

— SUMAYYA E. DIOP, Teaching Artist Coordinator & Teaching Artist