April Clark: Interview With The Reach And Teach Co-Founder
April Clark is the co-founder of Reach and Teach, an innovative, nonprofit educational program that allows high school students to gain industry experience while exploring various career paths and building self-confidence. The birth of Reach and Teach stemmed from an unlikely partnership between herself and a rock star, both of which share a passion and desire to impact the lives of young people struggling to find their way in life.
Beginning her professional career in the business industry, April Clark holds a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and industry experience in marketing, sales, and business administration. Unable to fulfil her calling in the burrows of an office building, Clark returned to the University of North Alabama to obtain a Master’s degree in Secondary Education, with a focus on business and marketing. Fulfilling the role as a high school Business & Marketing teacher gave Clark the platform she needed to provide opportunities and guidance for students to find their passion and purpose in this journey we call life. Clark is a Shoals Woman of the Year finalist, TEDx Speaker, and member of the Alabama Leadership Initiative. Raising her two children with her husband, David to love the Lord and smile every day is her greatest blessing. Each day is a choice and she chooses happy as often as possible.
Hello April, thanks for talking with us at TheatreArtLife! How are you doing at the moment, and how have you been coping through the pandemic?
Just as everyone else, 2020 brought huge changes to both my personal and professional life. Although working from home wasn’t new to me, being my kids’ teacher definitely was. It’s been an adjustment for sure, but I have enjoyed the additional time with family and the slower pace of life. Professionally, our nonprofit took a major hit along with the rest of the entertainment industry but after pushing through the initial shock, Reach and Teach has experienced exponential growth like we never dreamed possible.
You say the birth of Reach and Teach stemmed from an unlikely partnership between you and a rock star – that’s intriguing! Can you tell us more about that, and how you came to found the nonprofit?
As a former business education teacher, one of my responsibilities was to raise money for my Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) students to attend a national competition in Anaheim, CA. My students wanted to have a concert fundraiser, so I agreed, knowing next to nothing about organising a concert. However, I knew we needed a band, right? I reached out to every booking manager within a 100-mile radius of our school, which isn’t far from Nashville, so you can imagine, that’s a lot.
But every single one turned me down.
I was defeated until I received an expected email from the lead singer, Cam Flener, of one of those bands, The Velcro Pygmies. Cam agreed to do the concert on our school campus for free, with a few stipulations. It had to be lights out, standing room only, a real rock show. Before I even consulted my school administration, I said “YES, absolutely!”
Did I mention I was a first-year teacher? With a first-year career tech director and a first-year superintendent? You can imagine the pressure I felt hosting a rock show on campus. However, I had an incredible school administration that believed in my vision. You see, this wasn’t just a concert, it was a full, real-world experience, educational opportunity for my students. My students did everything from setting goals and maintaining an event budget to developing sponsorship proposals and designing tickets.
Concert day came and went. It was the best day ever.
As my students swept the gym floor, I saw huge smiles and noticed the massive impact the project had on my students. Before the band left that day, Cam approached me and said, “You know we have to take this to other schools, right?” We spent all summer developing a curriculum and building the nonprofit. Since then, we have worked with schools all across the country and countless students have experienced the pure joy of not just attending a real concert, but planning one too!
I really admire the ethos and results you accomplish through Reach and Teach – student-led, practical learning is a really pioneering format for education, and is a world away from the repetitive, test-based approach still pushed by so many educational systems. How did you create the nine-week curriculum, and how big of an undertaking was that?
Curriculum writing is a big job and requires a team effort. Before embarking on this task, I consulted with my college professors and many other career tech teachers. We wanted to provide something that teachers would love and was all-inclusive, so every lesson is aligned to national educational standards and includes a summary, essential questions, activities, handouts, and all resources necessary for implementation.
What makes our curriculum unique is there are no lectures, presentations, or textbooks.
We believe in authentic education where students learn by actually doing. Every lesson plan is designed for students to complete activities that teach a concept, apply the concept to the concert but then also to real life. Each activity builds on the one before and teachers simply guide and facilitate. Students love the method because it allows them to take control of their own education. The best part, it’s 100% free. That’s right, when we developed the program, we wanted every school, no matter their economic status to have access to this high-quality educational experience.
Were there any barriers when you first launched Reach and Teach? At the start did you face any people and schools that weren’t ready to try something new, or that just didn’t ‘get it’?
Absolutely! We had tons of teachers that wanted to participate and bring this experience to their classroom but didn’t have the support from their school administration. We quickly discovered politics and policy play a huge role in stifling the creativity, excitement, and innovative methods some teachers strive to use in their classrooms.
Early on, we were incredibly blessed to work with some amazing schools willing to try something new and take a chance on a real-life rock star and small town, Alabama teacher. Once we got a few campus concerts on our resume, the program exploded. Everyone wanted to be a part of the excitement that was making headlines across the Southeast. We quickly secured three additional bands and have been busy reaching and teaching students ever since.
What has the reaction been like from the students and teachers that you work with and what are some of your favourite success stories?
We have received nothing but positive reviews from the schools that have used our program. Everyone, from the principal and superintendent to the teachers and cafeteria staff, loves the impact and positive vibes the concert brings to campus. It truly improves the school climate and reaches students who tend to “slip through the cracks.”
We never dreamed this crazy idea would impact the lives of so many students.
My favourite part is seeing the students on concert day. They are so proud of what they created and their confidence builds when they see their peers enjoying something they brought to life. It’s priceless. We’ve had many students reach out after the concert and tell us they have found their passion or discovered a future career for themselves that they previously did not know existed. Honestly, it connects with the students who aren’t necessarily athletic, academic, or overly involved with other school activities.
We like to say this program provides a “game day” for students who would never typically experience that kind of satisfaction. One of my favourite success stories is a student we encountered almost two years ago. She had an interest in event planning and obviously excelled throughout the program. We saw her become a leader and find her purpose. She is now the program coordinator for Reach and Teach.
How can people get involved if they are interested in bringing Reach and Teach to their high school, or would like to collaborate or work with you in the future?
We love connecting students with real industry professionals. If someone has a heart for giving back and sharing their career journey with students, we would love to connect and make that happen. As for high schools interested in hosting a real concert on their campus, absolutely, reach out! We hope to be back in the concert business by Fall 2021. You can find out more information on our website or via social media.
Has the pandemic changed the way in which you are working at the moment, and how are things during these changing times?
A program that once allowed students to plan, promote, and execute a real concert on their school campus quickly became impossible to implement during the pandemic. However, our incredible team at Reach and Teach got creative and made a pivot (the word of 2020, right?)
Students who participate in our program this Spring will be planning, promoting, and producing a real entertainment broadcast, essentially a TV show. This new program, Campus Tour, debuted in Fall 2020 and has allowed teachers to implement the program virtually, traditionally, or in a hybrid classroom.
We also developed other free virtual programs for teachers to utilise during this unprecedented time in education, such as our interview series, which connects students to entertainment industry professionals from all across the world, and our virtual lunch & learn which will debut on January 29, 2021.
What are your hopes for the future of Reach and Teach, and what can we look forward to next from you?
This year has undoubtedly taught us to adapt and change. We could have “waited it out” but instead we found other innovative ways to fulfil our mission and continue reaching students. In the process, we expanded to 14 new states and added two new programs.
What’s next? Honestly, the sky is the limit.
All across the world, people are itching to get back to normal. Once we have the green light to bring real concerts back to campuses, I can guarantee, it will be a massive celebration. The resilience of Reach and Teach through this pandemic to evidence of the determination of our team to shake up education and reach students like never before.
There has been a lot of negative outcomes this year, but there has also been a lot of positives. We are excited to see an increase in the virtual education space. There will be so much creativity and innovation that comes out of 2020 that will be used for decades to come. It’s something to celebrate. I would just say, hang in there, be the good and choose happy.