If you want to reinvent the school experience at the local level, you often don’t have a lot of allies. Of course parents and students will encourage you, but it would be easier for the average teacher to summit Mount Everest than to climb the mountain of regulations that stand between a student and a good idea. School administrators and principals are more inclined to say ‘no’ to a risky idea than to embrace it, thanks to layer upon layer of bureaucratically devised methods and models being exported from DC your local school district.
But Jacket Radio happened when Jamie Martin, a teacher and coach at Kemp Junior High, approached Principal Clay Tracy with a crazy idea – A student operated business system in the form of a radio station. Kaufman County has some educators willing to take risks- if it means improving education for their students.
And so, Kemp Junior High now has a class designed to fit the qualifications and requirements of the Business Information Management standards, but with a few unique twists. Typically, students would run a fictitious business, and have assigned tasks within that ‘business’ to help them understand the practical inner workings of an American small business. While this is a great start, Jamie Martin wasn’t satisfied with pretending. He wanted to give students something real, and a way to share their unique voice to their community. Instead of giving students a fictional business, Jacket Radio is a real business, a radio station with it’s own app, contracts with music labels, and thousands of listeners.
Stepping into the Kemp Junior High seems familiar at first. It’s not unlike many other schools across the state, but stepping into the Jacket Radio classroom immediately shows you the difference. The energy level and excitement is quite a leap from the norm. Students aren’t spectators in a class, they’re running a business. Their business. Students writing. Students working spreadsheets and prepping shows for the next day. Other students recording show segments, and others conducting interviews with school athletes. The refreshing scene is marked most importantly by the fact that each student is engrossed in their efforts, and racing to meet their own goals for content production and deadlines.
When I visited Jacket Radio, I felt like I was in a montage scene from a Disney movie where everything just ‘clicks’ and the energy is electric. I had been told that classrooms in 2017 are stifling and can’t be fixed. Well, somebody forgot to inform Principal Tracy and Coach Martin.
In the short time I was there, I heard from students who communicated more effectively than many college freshmen, explaining why the program worked for them and what they were gaining both in terms of life skills and personal confidence. And importantly, the program doesn’t work without the contributions of all the students involved, so nobody wants a classmate to fall behind. Creating synergy didn’t come easy, and finding ways to work this program within curricular guidelines took teamwork from the teachers, principal, and school administrators. But when Martin approached Principal Tracy with the idea, he wasn’t met with resistance. He got an ally who was willing to try anything, even if it meant failure, to improve the student experience.
Despite the success, Principal Tracy as well as Coach Martin are humble about the exposure and focused on the future. Their message is clear; stagnation and status quo are more to be feared than the potential failure of an innovative idea. Martin repeated the sentiment again and again, that if Principal Tracy hadn’t been open to the idea, it never could have happened.
“It really took teamwork from everybody- from the students to the administrators- to find ways to make this program work,” Martin said. “Now we are getting tweets from bands saying ‘Hey can you play our music on your station?’ and I’m just blown away.”
If you get a chance to visit Kemp Junior High, do it. If you want to see what students look like when they sense ownership in their own classroom, step over to the Jacket Radio recording booth and have a seat. You’ll hear some fresh trivia facts, a lot of clean music, a few interviews, and a ton of excited students collaborating to meet their goals. Jacket Radio is not business (or school) as usual, but maybe it should be.