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Art, Innovation, and Empowerment: Preparing Future Leaders with Rickkay King

Art, Innovation, and Empowerment: Preparing Future Leaders with Rickkay King

February 27, 2024

Rickkay King is a co-founder of the Phoenix International School of the Arts (PISOTA), a Maryland charter school that aims to prepare young people for leadership in a global and creative world. Rickkay serves as the Director of Interdisciplinary and Auxiliary Programs and brings his expertise in education, psychology, and organizational leadership to the work.

We were thrilled to connect with Rickkay to learn more about him and PISOTA during Black History Month. 

What inspired the establishment of PISOTA?

Phoenix International School of the Arts is the first charter school, first performing arts school, and first Black-led school in the area, and its origins were birthed through community members wanting more. PISOTA was created out of community need for more public education options.

Before PISOTA, Charles County, Maryland was solely made up of district public schools, leaving families with few educational options for their scholars who could be interested in a creative career or curriculum. This left many families in the area to seek alternative options like homeschooling or private schools outside of public education.

PISOTA’s co-founder, Angelica Jackson is a native of the area and like many, her educational upbringing in Charles County displayed a limited worldview and level of access in comparison to neighboring counties and Washington, D.C. This gap inspired her to make a change and bring more school choice to this rural community.

What is PISOTA’s educational philosophy?

PISOTA’s educational philosophy is to inspire and prepare the next generation of global artists, innovators, leaders, and scholars to use their intrinsic gifts and academic skill sets to make the world a better place. We envision a generation of informed and highly capable youth taking equal stake in the global economy and community no matter their background. We believe in youth rising above their circumstances and soaring to their greatest potential. Through this mission and vision, paired with our international curriculum, we teach scholars to take ownership of their learning and use the world as their classroom.

How does PISOTA integrate technology into its curriculum and learning environment?

At PISOTA, each of our scholars are 1-1, often using their laptops to aid in everyday learning. One example of our effort to integrate technology into the curriculum is our partnership with Muzology. This program allows scholars to learn math in a fun and effective way through music. Compared to a modern-day schoolhouse rock, this online program tests scholars’ knowledge in math through song and creative pairing. This intelligent system generates a math playlist perfectly suited for each scholar at their grade level.

How does PISOTA support students’ holistic development, including their social, emotional, and physical well-being?

One of PISOTA’s key pillars is Mental Health & Holistic Wellness. This pillar was intentionally created after “Dream Sessions” were held with community members who expressed what their dream school would look like. Across the board families of various backgrounds expressed the need for more holistic support for their scholars who may need additional or alternative supports commonly found in traditional teaching environments.

One of the initial reasons I was brought into the fold was to utilize my existing experience and educational background in Psychology. After obtaining a bachelor’s and master’s degree in psychology I continued to work in the field as an Educational Director for a residential treatment center for teens as well as serve as an adjunct professor at Pepperdine’s Graduate School for Education and Psychology. Personally and professionally, mental health education and practices have remained important and I aim to incorporate them into every environment I have the pleasure of working in.

For PISOTA, these practices are on display through our programs and community partnerships. At the top of the school year PISOTA partnered with MARO. MARO is a wrap-around program that educates our scholars on mental health, assesses scholars’ current mental health status, and provides a direct link to clinical support beyond your everyday school counselors.

Most recently, our schools sponsoring nonprofit organization partnered with PMK Plus, a local organization that provides on-sight therapeutic services to our scholars after school. Through these partnerships we hope to increase mental health awareness in a community that is often ostracized from its benefits and create a generation of youth empowered with ongoing holistic support.

Can you elaborate on the role of community engagement and professional partnerships in the PISOTA educational model?

Community Uplift is another key pillar of PISOTA. As co-founders, we knew that we wanted to create a school that was not just for the scholars that attend, but for the community as a whole. Our goal is to ensure our institution serves as a hub for educational resources, arts- aligned programming, and community networking. Our professional partnerships are directly aligned with our educational model through our Real-World Experience and Access to Experts pillar that gets our scholars in front of professionals in various career paths.

Just this month, our middle school scholars had the opportunity to meet and learn from Alvin Ailey dancers, hear inspirational words from a local sports hall of fame coach, and train with a local college’s drill team. Highlighting the important work happening in our scholars’ own backyard is key to our Community Uplift pillar and displayed through in school and out of school activities.

What future goals or aspirations does PISOTA have for further enhancing its educational offerings and impact?

Phoenix International is constantly striving to expand and enhance its educational offerings to further amplify its impact on marginalized rural youth. In the future, the organization aims to continue developing innovative educational models that leverage both in-person and online platforms to reach a wider audience.

Additionally, Phoenix International seeks to deepen its commitment to the principles of web3, utilizing technology to create more inclusive and decentralized educational experiences for communities of color. The organization aspires to strengthen its outreach efforts, ensuring that all youth, regardless of background or circumstance, have access to critically needed educational opportunities. Through ongoing collaboration and partnerships, Phoenix International aims to establish itself as a leader in art, culture, and transforming the educational landscape and empowering youth to thrive in the global economy.

How is your school celebrating Black History Month and what does the month mean to you and your school?

The founders of Phoenix International School of the Arts are Black History. Black History Month holds immense significance for us. It’s a time to honor and celebrate the rich cultural heritage, achievements, and contributions of prominent individuals throughout history.

Our school is dedicated to fostering a learning environment that values diversity, equity, and inclusion year-round, but during Black History Month, we amplify our efforts to educate our students about the important role Black Americans have played in shaping our world. With being a school that consists of a student body that is ~90% African American, we encourage our students to draw from their heritage to inspire the work and impact they can make today.

We celebrate through a variety of activities such as guest speakers, workshops, performances, and interactive discussions that highlight the achievements and triumph of Black people. This month serves as a reminder of the ongoing fight for racial justice and equality, and it inspires us to continue our commitment to creating a more just and inclusive society within our school community and beyond.

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