Dance teacher Jeremy Rooks remembers talking to his friends in college about how education is underfunded — especially fine arts. Now, in his second year in Fort Worth ISD, he’s experiencing that deficit as a teacher.

Rooks is doing his best to meet the challenge. 

He is learning about the issues his students at the Leadership Academy at Forest Oak Middle face and using all available resources to connect them with the community. 

Rooks is the only recipient from Fort Worth ISD to receive a 2023-24 First Year Teacher Grant from Texas Cultural Trust. The $1,500 grant aims to incentivize first-year art teachers at Title I schools, where at least 40% of students come from low-income families. Teachers can use the funding for professional development, classroom enrichment and additional art resources.  

“This grant provides another learning opportunity for myself and my students to celebrate and to enrich our learning,” he said.

Rooks is using part of the funds to bring a mariachi band on campus to celebrate Latin rhythms such as the cha-cha and the salsa. The campus has a predominantly Hispanic population, so he wanted to connect students to their culture and community as well as engage parents, he said. 

Rooks’ application for the grant stood out because, as a first-year teacher, he already thinks outside of just “surviving the class,” said Jenny Parry, director of programs at the Texas Cultural Trust.

“He’s thinking long term. He’s thinking about the community. He’s thinking of the broader picture,” Parry said.

(Courtesy photo | Jeremy Rooks)

Looking back to his first year teaching at the academy, Rooks called it “quite challenging” but “rewarding in terms of demonstrating flexibility as an educator.” His background focuses on ballet styles, but his students gravitate toward hip-hop. 

The dance teacher finds balance by incorporating TikTok dance moves to the routines, and his students have taken incredible strides to show him they’re learning, he said. 

Sometimes, though, they still disagree on the song choices, Rooks said, laughing. 

“It’s been a wild year,” he said. 

Rooks intends to use another part of the grant money on production supplies, like a fog machine or Christmas decorations. 

But he’s also aware of the need to keep his students fed before performances and buy gifts for them, he said. At the Leadership Academy at Forest Oak Middle, 98% of students are from low-income families

Rooks also understands that most of his students may not want to stick with dancing by the end of his class. So, he tries to add strength and flexibility training for those who want to pursue sports. He incorporates leadership skills into his curriculum, too. 

“My goal is to lift them up and to give them different opportunities,” he said.  

Dang Le is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at 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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Dang Le is a reporting fellow. He can be reached at Le has a journalism degree from the University of Texas at Arlington. He was the editor-in-chief at The Shorthorn, UTA’s...