Students Sierra Pitchford and Sydney Berry gracefully strided across the black stage. Blue lights illuminated the students as they performed a dance. 

Stomp. Stomp. Glide. Each step the students made was filled with intention.

Dozens of teachers sat in the audience as Sierra and Sydney danced on the stage at the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts. They were two of the student performers who showed off their skills during the Texas Center for Arts + Academics’ second annual convocation.

The charter school has two main schools, the Fort Worth Center of Fine Arts and the Texas School of the Arts. The Aug. 4 event marked the kick off of the school year for educators, who are preparing for the first day of classes Aug. 15.

Throughout the two hour event, speakers reminded teachers of the task ahead of them as the 2022-23 school year begins. 

Sophomore Anna Tabor, left, and fifth-grader Cadence Ballew served as the hosts for Texas Center for Arts + Academics’ second annual convocation on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. (Cristian ArguetoSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Sophomore Anna Tabor has attended the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts since she was in middle school. She fell in love with the arts-focused charter after attending a summer camp. She auditioned and got in. The school has transformed Anna into a better artist and someone who thinks critically of her world.

“You poured into me, and I’m a better person each year I am here,” she said.

Fifth-grader Cadence Ballew also attends the charter network, which started in 2001. She goes to the Texas School of the Arts. 

Cadence loves that she gets to learn about much needed math and reading skills, but also that she can explore all kinds of arts. Students who attend other schools often are limited in what art classes they can take, but not here, she said. 

The arts even find ways into core subjects.

“Where else would you find teachers who make up dances and songs for math and history class?” Cadence said.

Deborah Ferguson, the co-anchor of NBC DFW’s morning show, was the keynote speaker. She talked about how she would have never become a journalist without the teachers she had while attending Fort Worth ISD schools. Ferguson told the teachers in the theater that they are doing exactly what they need to inspire the next generation of leaders.

“That is why I want to be here. Teachers do make a difference,” Ferguson said. “I am someone who benefited — and it is life-changing.”

Deborah Ferguson, the co-anchor of NBC DFW’s morning show, was the keynote speaker for Texas Center for Arts + Academics’ second annual convocation on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. (Cristian ArguetoSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Still, Ferguson and Ariele Kinney, director of regional advocacy in Dallas for the Texas Public Charter School Association, reminded teachers they also need to take care of themselves. Avoid burnout, they said. Both speakers gave tips for how to keep work manageable.

“Give your students the best, but keep a little bit for you and your home life,” Ferguson said.

Kinney, a former kindergarten teacher, also advised educators to advocate for themselves, especially when they are not feeling 100%. Doing this will set themselves and students up for success. Kinney stressed that teachers need to keep administration in the loop when they need help or need resources to support them.

She also suggested for teachers to place a sticky note somewhere visible and write their reason for teaching. Look to that note when times are tough or when you need that extra motivation, Kinney suggested. 

Dan Bates, the chairman of the charter’s board of directors, told teachers their school is challenging for students — not just in academics, but also in arts. The difficulty is good, he said. He looked out to the rows in the theater, and attributed the schools’ rigorousness to one group.

“How does this happen? Because of each one of you,” he said.

Paul Gravley is the president and CEO of the Texas Center for Arts + Academics. He said the next decade will be crucial for the charter. He challenged his teachers to think about everything their schools can do and how they need to reach beyond the moon and stars.

To get there, Texas Center for Arts + Academics is set to spend the next six months creating a strategic plan. 

“As we go through that strategic planning process, here’s what I’m going to need: I’m going to need each and everyone of you to make it happen,” Gravley said.

Gravley encouraged teachers to have a good school year. He reiterated the lessons that Ferguson, Bates and other speakers brought up during their convocation presentations.

“You are the reason why the kids are going to show up next week,” Gravley said

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here

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Jacob Sanchez

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University.