On August 21, Dr. Hollie Russell-West rode the elevator up to the second floor of the Park Pacific apartment building in Downtown St. Louis, walked through the glass doors newly emblazoned with the logo of her vision, and took a lap of the promising St. Louis Voices Academy (“Voices”). She took a deep breath – her last as an Entrepreneur-In-Residence, a member of The Opportunity Trust’s school incubation fellowship (now called the ‘Innovative Schools Fellowship’), and her first as a school founder. The halls began to fill with staff, volunteers, students and families, as St. Louis’ newest school sprung to life.
A career educator and school leader, Russell-West has dedicated her career to improving schools and systems in St. Louis. But it wasn’t until her grandchild was ready for Kindergarten that she realized the school that would unleash his potential didn’t yet exist.
“If it doesn’t exist, you have to build it.”
With a curriculum designed to weave media arts into traditional elementary school coursework, the students (“creators”) at Voices are empowered to tell their stories, and develop the skills to make meaningful change in the community. This happens in the classrooms where creators sharpen their reading skills; this happens in the cafeteria where creators build community and advocate for themselves and their classmates; this happens in the podcast studio where creators practice telling their stories to the world.
Though much work is yet to be done to fully realize Dr. Russell-West’s vision, Voices has succeeded in establishing itself as a place where St. Louis’ youth can go to find their… well… voices.
Tierra Parks, Voices’ founding Media Arts Instructor reflected, “What sets [Voices] apart is its unique ability to seamlessly merge creativity, technology, and societal impact, fostering the empowerment of our creators.” She adds, “We provide a platform for training our future reporters, media professionals, filmmakers, and innovative entrepreneurs.” Though the creators are still years away from their first jobs, the foundational storytelling skills they are developing at Voices will establish them as leaders in the classroom and community early in their academic and professional careers.
A New and Innovative Quality Options for Families
Two months into Voices’ inaugural school year, the 70 creators and 12 staff members celebrated their accomplishments in building an energized community and vibrant culture with a ribbon-cutting ceremony – the cherry on top of a successful first eight weeks as a new school.
“This isn’t a grand opening, but a grand welcoming,” said Dr. Russell-West to the assembled group, remarking on the opportunity to bring the community into the thriving new school space.
As a bright October sun beamed through the floor-to-ceiling windows that line the classrooms at Voices, friends, families, staff, administrators, and community members gathered to watch as Dr. Russell-West’s jumbo golden scissors sliced the student-designed ribbon in two, officially welcoming the school into the St. Louis educational landscape.
For more information about St. Louis Voices Academy or to enroll for the 22-23 or 23-24 school year, visit www.stlouisvoicesacademy.org.
Visit with the Kindergartners and First Graders at St. Louis Voices Academy below!