“Sharing What Works in Education” by Susan Tomases
When you meet Denise Bankston, the archetype of a southern woman comes to mind; charming, quick with a laugh, warm, and hospitable. What you soon learn is that she is also feisty, motivated, and determined to make as impact on public education in Bossier Parish, Louisiana.
Her passion stems from the jurney she and her son JT embarked on in his 3rd grade year. Struggling to read and write, feeling totally misunderstood in school, JT was diagnosed with dyslexia, and Bankston looked unsuccessfully for a school that would fit his needs.
By the time 9th grade arrived, the quest had led 1,700 miles from home to Landmark School. Bankston temporarily left husband and family behind to move to Massachusetts, where JT soon thrived as a student and athlete, graduating in 2005. Seeing how a fitting education allowed him to reach his potential ignited a fire in Bankston. In 2010 she established A Kids’s Choice Foundation to systematically improve elementary education in Bossier Parish.
Bankston and A Kids’s Choice generously adopt three schools each year and provide funding for Smartboards, iPads, and other educational tools. She is also a strong presence in the schools, purchasing necklaces for all students, faculty, and staff to raise funds for hungry children in the US, along with passing our journals to all 5th graders for documenting goals, and hosting a day where she moves from classroom to classroom showering students with hugs and her love.
Perhaps the most profound gift that Bankston gives to her adopted schools is sending eight teachers each year to Landmark Outreach’s Professional Development Summer Institute. Last year teachers from Curtis, Legacy, and Meadowview Elementary Schools attended a week-long graduate course on establishing a language-based classroom. Teacher Laurie Selsor who attended the course said, “I have seen firsthand the joy that Ms. Bankston’s loving, caring heart has placed on student faces. I have also seen the lightbulb of learning illuminate above my students’ heads after they being to benefit from the strategies I learned during my course at Landmark. She [Bankston] is definitely giving learning differences a voice. Thank you for giving me an unforgettable learning experience at Landmark.”