Treat others as you would like to be treated. Be kind—you never know what another person might be going through.Judy Taylor
Since my daughter came to Becker in the fall of 2019 I have been heartened again and again by the spirit of community that infuses the school. Her teachers are compassionate and wise, her friends are kind, and the parents I have come to know have helped immensely in getting us through this wild year. I feel like we’ve joined a kind of extended family. I know I’m not the only one.
However strong Becker’s community is today, this is not a new invention. I recently had the great joy of meeting Judy Taylor, Becker’s principal from 1983 to 1997. She told me about how she supported inspirational teachers and mentors, focused on helping children learn and thrive, and begat a legacy of inclusivity that continues today.
In the early 1980s Becker was a Title One school, and many students were struggling. Ms. Taylor helped revamp the curriculum and after school programming, and even brought artists and performers to the school to teach music and dance. And at the end of the decade Ms. Taylor invited Carla Marshall to create the garden and to incorporate it into the school across the street. Before she left, the Green Classroom won three Presidential awards.
She was kind enough to answer our questions about her tenure and her involvement with the garden. Read on!
Becker Green Classroom: What years were you principal at Becker? What was your vision for the school?
Judy Taylor: I was hired as Becker’s principal in 1983—after two years as principal of Pecan Springs. At that time, Becker had around 800 students, including 6th grade! At the end of my first year, the district decided to renovate the school. They enlarged the library, reconfigured the office, remodeled the gym, and repainted the inside, etc. The faculty had to pack up their rooms and take all personal items home for the summer. It was a bit wild! I retired 14 years later to help my husband run a retreat center in West Texas near Leaky, TX. I chose to leave mid-year so that the staff and new principal could get acquainted and all all could come back in the fall knowing what to expect from each other.
Becker was the crowning achievement of my career. I loved the community, the faculty , and the children from day one. I inherited many superlative teachers and by the time I left had hired almost everyone on the staff. Our vision for the school was to bring each child to his full potential. We did this by having many innovative programs such as the Green Classroom.
Our philosophy was: children learn by DOING, not lectures.
BGC: Can you tell us about the school and students in the late 1980s? Obviously no Zoom classes then… 🙂 How did Becker and the Bouldin neighborhood change during your time there?
JT: In the 80s, the school was 98% free and reduced lunch; a Title One school. The students had many needs and were behind academically. We had an opportunity to join the Alliance Schools project and become one of the 16 Priority Schools in Austin. This was voted on by the faculty and the community and meant a lot of extra work on the part of the teachers. The idea was to walk the entire neighborhood, survey the parents about their hopes for their children, and get parents involved more in their child’s education. We also provided training for parents in how to present their needs to the school board and to articulate their hopes for the community.
Programs established at Becker during my tenure:
- Galaxy Science Program: Our teachers wrote a grant to be part of this Hughes Aircraft program which involved staff training with schools all over the country. We were hooked up with other schools via computer to learn about what they were doing in science ed. It was another “hands on” program and our staff went to California to learn new techniques.
- Artist in Residence: Tina Marsh brought in musicians throughout the city to work with students and put on performances for the community and each other. (another “learn by doing”) she wrote a grant for this for about 6 years. A remarkable woman with a huge heart and talent she loved to share.
- After-school Dance program with students from New York National Dance Institute (Jaque d’Amboise , ballet dancer founded this.)
- Adopted a new reading program called “Open court” based on phonics and student movement and activities with active recitation.
- Extend-a-care after school program.
- Community Education program and office on site.
- Austin Lyric Opera education program (kids wrote their own opera in 5th grade)
- The Becker Green Classroom!
BGC: Can you tell us about how you met Carla Marshall and began to work together? We would love to learn about how you developed and implemented the really revolutionary idea for the garden as a learning space.
JT: I met Carla Marshall through Tina. She was picking up Tina’s son from school and had noticed the empty house across the street. She asked me if I would be receptive to a gardening project with the students and their parents. The rest is history! She ended up winning two national environmental awards and we travelled with kids and parents to Washington to receive them.
BGC: Could you share with us some favorite memories of the Becker Garden Classroom? What was a favorite project the students undertook?
JT: Carla was a remarkable teacher. She really understood how to relate to children. The first summer, she planted over 100 pumpkin seeds and when the Kindergarten students returned, they had their own plant to care for! Two favorite memories are the students selling their produce at Whole Foods in the parking lot. After taking out expenses, they got to keep their earnings! (Math!) Another favorite, they made a huge Texas outline of concrete in front of the school and planted it with native plants from the different areas of Texas. (Geography!)
BGC: Can you tell us about how the school changed with the garden, and how the garden changed with the school? And on a different scale – what you saw in individual students as a result of being there, growing and caring for the garden?
JT: The green classroom was used to bring in parents to work with the children. For those who were uncomfortable in the classroom, they could shine in the outdoor classroom! It was also a lovely place for reflection and for holding receptions to honor someone in the community who had contributed to Becker’s dreams!
BGC: Is there any message you’d like to share with Becker students today?
JT: Treat others as you would like to be treated. Be kind—you never know what another person might be going through.