Teachers: the Heart of Student Success

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Lesley during high school choir

I have spent my first few weeks at IPSEF combing through the incredible DonorsChoose.org projects that IPS teachers have had funded in 2013. Looking through these inspirational projects got me thinking about teachers who went above and beyond for me and my classmates when I was a student. One teacher in particular instantly came to my mind. Mrs. Prather was my choir director during my junior and senior year of high school in Brownsburg, IN. The things I learned from daily rehearsals went far beyond mandatory arts education and have stuck with me to this day.

Mrs. Prather believed in excellence in all that she did and expected the same for her students. She believed that an average group of high schoolers, with all their mess and attitude and drama, could together become something greater than the sum of its parts. It was evident that Mrs. Prather loved what she did, and she made us love it too. From warm-ups to performances, from rehearsals to competitions, Mrs. Prather exuded enthusiasm for music and for her students.

Sure, we learned our choral basics—how to read music, how to keep time, how identify musical intervals, how to harmonize. But beyond the foundations of good singing, Mrs. Prather consistently used music to open our eyes to new ways of thinking about and viewing the world.

A class I specifically remember was learning how to sing in color. This may sound an abstract concept, especially for a group of high school students. What I took away from that lesson was that Mrs. Prather believed we were bright enough and open enough to think beyond the boundaries of how music should be understood and tackle a new point of view. She would yell out “Sing in maroon!” or “Now lavender!” or “Sing like a sunset!” and with each new color she broadened our horizons a little bit further.

One spring she passed around a new piece of music simply titled “Fences.” It didn’t sound like our normal repertoire- it was choppy and fierce and had something to say. She chose the piece for the musical challenge it presented to us as choir, but also for the ideological challenge it presented to us as young people. The song describes how the “universe was born” without boundary lines and that divisions among peoples and nations are man-made. I remember her urging us, with tears in her eyes, to be a generation that works to break down fences instead of build them, to leave a legacy of unity instead of division.

Although I didn’t attend school in Indianapolis, my time with IPSEF has shown me that IPS is full of Mrs. Prathers. Teachers that care deeply about their students. Teachers that believe in their students’ potential. Teachers that go above and beyond to not just teach, but to inspire.


Lesley Marling is the Development Intern for IPSEF. She is currently pursuing a Master’s of Public Administration through Indiana University. Having lived in Missouri and Washington for the past seven years, she recently moved back to Indianapolis with her husband, John Mark, and their two hound dogs, Layla and Charlie.