It sometimes takes knowing the pain, the hunger, the feeling of inadequacy and despair to understand the plight of others and recognize the need to throw out a lifeline and do something — anything — to help.
Benton Intermediate School band director Cory Craig remembers that part of her life all too well. Her story is raw, yet victorious. Her past was shrouded in darkness, but her present exudes light. It is what drives Craig to actively seek out kids who need someone to show compassion, to believe in them and to sometimes rescue them.
“I grew up in a very poor and abusive home in Southern California with five other siblings. A sixth was born while we were in foster care,” Craig explains. “We were taken away by CPS (Child Protective Services) when I was 10 years old as very unruly, filthy, hungry kids with little social skills or drive to do well in school.”
It was not until her seventh grade year that Craig’s life finally took a turn in the right direction.
“When I went into my second foster home, I was able to choose my first elective in middle school — which, of course, was art. I was shocked and disheartened to find out I was ‘accidentally’ placed into a band class and couldn’t switch out.
My foster mother said, ‘Play saxophone like Kenny G!’ and I brought home the baritone saxophone, a saxophone that was as big as I was! I had no idea how hard it would be to learn a new language, make a large hunk of metal sing beautiful and crazy sounds, and be academically responsible for my learning through discipline, listening, literacy, application and daily practice.”
Craig remembers having few friends growing up and not being confident to interact with others. Yet being part of the band suddenly gave her 60 instant friends she considered family, the start to a new life and the beginning of her passion for music.
“This became my new escape as I went through foster care and counseling for the trauma we endured. I tasted success for the first time and it overflowed into my other subjects, going from a failing student to an ‘A’ student. I also knew that year, my seventh grade year, I must become a band director one day to help give others this wonderful escape and experience.”
In 2014 Craig fulfilled that vow when she began teaching music in Caddo Parish, then a few years later was named band director in Ruston and commuted there everyday. It was COVID that caused her to pump the brakes and seek an opportunity closer to home rather than on the road away from her family.
Before the 2020-21 school year started, the Benton band directors called and Craig landed her dream job at Benton Intermediate. She hit the ground running and the impact she has made both professionally and personally in such a short time has amazed her colleagues; so much so, they nominated Craig for Bossier Schools’ Gold Star award, which recognizes employees that go above and beyond. Craig certainly fits that bill and is the recipient of the coveted award for the month of March.
“Mrs. Craig has sacrificed so much to help out her kids, even to the point of taking a family into her home to bathe, clothe and feed them,” Suzanne Hill wrote. “Without her, this family would not have had food to eat.
Another colleague revealed how Craig spends her own money to help students and even went to a student’s house and cleaned it when one of the parents had been in a car accident. She also took in two students during the recent winter weather so they could bathe, and she fed them and cut their hair because they did not have water, electricity or food at home.
And Toni Ford told how Craig found a way for her band students to perform in front of a live audience despite COVID by presenting a virtual concert for local nursing homes.
Craig’s selflessness has not escaped the eye of Principal Jennifer Burris, either, who admires her band director’s “whatever it takes” mindset.
“Cory Craig’s middle name, Joy, couldn’t be more fitting for her,” Burris said. “She knows firsthand how much of an impact that teachers can have on students’ lives each and every day. She was dealt a really tough hand at a young age … fast forward and Mrs. Craig is now a band director and it is evident that she is paying it forward and making a HUGE impact along the way.”
Craig’s life has come full circle, sharing her love for music, boosting students’ confidence and unlocking opportunities for them. She is also using her platform to reach out to those young souls whom she sees as needing something more.
“I firmly believe in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” Craig added. “How can I expect someone to learn if they are hungry and their home is unstable? For me personally, it wasn’t until I was in a stable foster home with regular meals, clean clothes and consistent showers that I stopped focusing on surviving and started focusing on doing better in school. I know if I can help meet the needs of my students, they can be freed up to excel in all things.”
She went on to say, “I also learned that a true test of someone’s character is not what they do when other people are looking, but rather when no one is looking. Do we still choose to do the right thing, love others, be selfless, lay down our lives for others when no one else will know? The people that have helped us (Craig and her adopted siblings) have never received an award or public recognition for their great kindness, many I have never been able to thank. But they have created ripples — great waves — in the lives of people around them because they chose to be kind, loving, generous out of their hearts. I want to be that for people around me.”
Editor’s note: Know someone who works for Bossier Schools that is deserving of recognition for going above and beyond? Nominate them for the Gold Star award, proudly sponsored for the last nine years by Bossier Federal Credit Union. Just go to https://www.bossierschools.org/goldstarnews and tell us what sets them apart.