Morningside Community School, a high-poverty school in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, began implementing RBT’s High Impact Teacher Teams (Teams) in 2018. Over the last few years, teacher teams, alongside their specialist, service provider, inventionist, and administrator colleagues, have used the “Teams'' approach to learn together and put into practice high-leverage practices that raise achievement, particularly for historically marginalized groups of students. This has included increasing discourse in the classroom, facilitating reflection and conversation with students about their own experiences and beliefs, and incorporating opportunities to build exposure to and background knowledge in the content of the texts they are reading through visuals, videos, music integration, and more.
Their efforts paid off, as the school made significant gains in achievement and exited turnaround status. Empowered with a strong foundation in high impact teacher teaming, equipped with the norms, protocols, and a culture of collective efficacy, the educators and administrators at Morningside Community School were able to keep the momentum going despite the pandemic. This year, Morningside teams have continued to rise to challenge, focusing their efforts on making student thinking visible and on culturally responsive practices. As an example, the fourth-grade team carried out an exciting social justice project that attracted the attention of a world-famous jazz musician.
In December 2020, the fourth-grade teachers at the school came together to plan an ELA experience inspired by the story Rent Party Jazz by William Miller from the IntoReading curriculum. This particular story is about a boy and his mother living in New Orleans in the 1930s. His mother loses her job; they are being evicted from their apartment; and the boy has to decide if he should quit school and go to work to help support his family or not. Ultimately, the boy meets a famous jazz musician who introduces him to the concept of a rent party. Rent parties, often featuring jazz and blues musicians, were held by communities to raise money to help families pay their rent by charging guests for attendance; and this is exactly what happened in the story for the main character and his mother. The story makes explicit reference to racial injustice, disparity, and poverty through the lens of a little boy. It is also rich with jazz culture and messaging around the importance of community.