Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

February 28, 2013

State Home contest spurs student interest, achievement

By Bob Belcher
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — The tough task of teaching troubled youth got a helping hand in February, incorporating a heritage celebration into an interest-building contest.

Staff and faculty of the Corsicana Residential Treatment Center, best known locally as the State Home, turned the topic of Black History Month into a month-long competition to allow for student creativity and a friendly competition.

The State Home held a door decorating contest, with classrooms in various subjects decorating their own hallway doors with a collage of artwork and displays commemorating Black History Month. The prize for the door judged best by a panel of invited guests — a special luncheon that students helped prepare, served on Thursday.

The English class of Mildred Watkins was judged the number one display. It featured a number of two and three-dimensional creations commemorating events and significant achievements of Black Americans through the years.

The contest severed several purposes for the students — an educational opportunity, and an effort to express themselves creatively — but perhaps most importantly, the recognition that comes with achievement. That, sadly, is something many of the young people at the state-run facility have experienced few times, if any, as a result of their troubled backgrounds.

“It’s a learning opportunity for kids, and not just for African-American kids, but for all kids, to have some in-depth exposure to the gifts that African-Americans have offered to the United States, and in some cases, the world,” said State Home Principal Shirley Garcia.

Garcia said that the youth at the home are many times just now learning of the significance of the African-American contributions to society, not only because of their own troubled backgrounds, but because black history isn’t taught in as much depth as other history topics in schools.

Still, while the youth at the State Home may lack some general knowledge, it hasn’t dampened their desire to learn and express themselves creatively. This past month’s competition addressed both of those skills.

“They’re able to express many of their ideas through drawings, through sculptures, through artistic expression that they may otherwise be unable to express with pen and paper,” she said.

The program also gave teachers of many different subjects a way to get involved in a way other than the regular curriculum, she added.

The Black History program was only one of several projects that the State Home utilizes to help kids get more involved and motivated to participate. In January, students participated in the “Day of Action” program honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and made “finger-knitted” scarves for distribution to homeless people.

Garcia said the youth at the home look forward to the special opportunities.

“We can’t take our kids out on field trips, but we can try to bring as many opportunities to them as we can,” she said.

“Many of these kids have never ‘won’ anything,” she explained. “Just the least bit of positive recognition, these kids love it, because they’ve not been exposed to it in most cases,” Garcia said.

“They were behind and some not going to school,” added Diana Hughes, Community Relations Coordinator for the State Home.

Hughes relayed the story of a conversation she had with a State Home student who had just earned his GED, giving him praise for his accomplishment.

“He had the funniest look,” she said. “I asked him ‘what’s wrong?’ and he said ‘nobody’s ever talked to me like this.’ He didn’t know how to be successful before,” Hughes said.

Garcia said the special activties for the students do far more than teach a lesson. They inspire them.

“You put them in that element and they’re wonderful kids ... they love this stuff,” Garcia said. “I am blown away sometimes by the artistic talent.

“We do quite a lot, really, when you consider the fact that we’re a ‘different kind of school’ but yet, we are a school.”

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Bob Belcher may be reached by email at bbelcher@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com