Back to school

SARAH JESSICA PARKER, Kerry Washington and Forest Whitaker are adopting some of the nation’s worst-performing schools and pledged on Monday to help the Obama administration turn them around by integrating arts education.

By (AP)

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Published: Wed 25 Apr 2012, 8:12 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 9:54 PM

The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities announced a new Turnaround Arts initiative as a pilot project for eight schools, with officials from the White House and U.S. Department of Education.

Organisers said they aim to demonstrate research that shows the arts can help reduce behavioral problems and increase student attendance, engagement and academic success.

The two-year initiative will target eight high-poverty elementary and middle schools. The schools were among the lowest-performing schools in each of their states and had qualified for about $14 million in federal School Improvement Grants from the Obama administration. The public-private arts initiative will bring new training for educators at the Aspen Institute, art supplies, musical instruments and programs totalling about $1 million per year, funded by the Ford Foundation, the Herb Alpert Foundation and other sponsors.

Washington, who stars in the new drama Scandal, will adopt a District of Columbia school. Washington said there are often misconceptions about the role arts play in school, as if the arts are only the “sprinkles on the icing.”

“It’s not that the arts are something to put on in the final period of the day once all the real work is done,” she said. “Arts are actually how we can help them get the real work done.”

For example, studies show music training can help improve student math scores, she said.

Artists from the president’s committee, including Washington, will present programmes to students and teachers, celebrate their successes, help create community partnerships and raise funds to continue their work beyond the initial two years.

Sex and the City star Parker will adopt a school in Portland, and Whitaker will work with students in Des Moines.

Artist Chuck Close, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, dancer Damian Woetzel and actress Alfre Woodard also are adopting schools in the two-year programme.

For Washington, whose star has been rising since her breakout performance as Ray Charles’ wife in the 2004 movie Ray, arts programmes might have made the difference for her growing up in the Bronx at the height of the crack epidemic.

“I remember walking to dance class, walking those two blocks from my house and seeing crack vials on the street,” Washington said. “I just think, if I wasn’t walking to dance class, where would I have been walking? I just don’t know.”

Children’s theatre and ballet taught her about collaborating with others, being accountable and thinking outside the box, she said. It also kept her from being home alone after school.

“I come from a great family,” Washington said. “But it’s easy to fall through the cracks without those resources around you, without those extra things that get you excited about learning.”



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