When Upper School Theater Director Rick Garcia received an invitation to speak with the U.S. Secretary of Education, John B. King, Jr., he was flattered and intrigued. He says, “The invitation said I had been recommended by my peers, but I didn’t know who to thank.” It wasn’t until he arrived in Washington, D.C. that he began putting the pieces together.
He and 13 other fine arts teachers from across the country were invited to meet with Education policymakers in D.C. to discuss the issues educators face today. Rick was surprised to see his former student, Celeste Rodriguez-Jensen, in attendance as director of the Teacher Liaison National Engagement Team for the Department of Education. Rick was delighted, “Celeste is one of my alumni. I was filled with pride as I saw my once 17-year-old student incorporate her stage manager skills to coordinate a national gathering of teachers.”
Celeste attended A.S. Johnston High School in east Austin, and credited Rick with cultivating her skills as a leader and organizer. Rick explains, “Celeste became a skilled stage manager in high school, and now she uses those skills every day as a director.”
The most unexpected connection for Rick was with Lucy Johnson, an Education policymaker who was formerly mayor of Buda, Texas. In fact, Rick discovered, “As we chatted we realized I knew her drama teacher. What a small world!”
Though he relished the personal connections he made in his meetings, Rick took his opportunity seriously to advocate for art programs in rural and urban schools, as he explains, “They’re usually the first programs to [get cut].” Another related issue Rick addressed: “I came from a rural education and experienced teaching in both rural and urban settings, and they share the same struggle—attracting and keeping talented teachers. Developing a rich learning culture can help with that.”
Rick realized many Education policymakers shared his views, but struggled with turning ideas into viable solutions. Rick recalls an example Lucy gave him, “She described how proud she felt when she acquired laptops for 60 students in the small town of Richland Springs, Texas. The students were going to learn how to create art with digital tools, among other things. Then she found out the school didn’t even have internet access. She was frustrated to say the least.”
The few days Rick spent with teachers and policymakers left him feeling uncertain about how much change he could make in his community. “My trip was exciting, but I left feeling very small in the world of bureaucracy. It was a gathering of great ideas, but no real discussion of what to do with those great ideas, or more accurately, how to fund those great ideas.” Rick found solace in the words of JJ Jonas, a teacher at Salado High School in Salado, Texas: “‘Focus on creating your world,’ she advised me. ‘Remember that sometimes we can't change the outside world. The only way to change things is to create our own small worlds and allow them to ripple out.’”
Reflecting on his experience, Rick says, “The more I learn, the more I really appreciate how we value the 4 pillars here−scholar, artist, athlete, servant. I bragged about all the good work happening at St. Andrew’s whenever I could, because I believe the private and public school systems can learn from each other.”
Rick Garcia was one of 14 fine arts educators in the U.S. who were invited to Washington, D.C. to meet with Secretary of Education, John B. King Jr. on August 31, 2016. You can learn more about the monthly “Tea With Teachers” gathering and also sign up for the newsletter, The Teachers Edition, at U.S. Department of Education (www.ed.gov).
Located in Austin, Texas, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School is a private co-ed elementary, middle and high school for grades K-12. Students benefit from dedicated faculty, a challenging academic program, fine and performing arts, competitive athletics, and a wide selection of extracurricular activities.