Boston School Turns Around With Focus on the Arts

First Graders

Orchard Gardens (MA) first graders recite a portion of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech during a school assembly earlier this week.

“I have a dream!” Orchard Gardens’ first graders shouted in unison before hundreds who had gathered for a school assembly earlier this week. Line by line, the students recited the entire ending of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous speech. The performance created a palpable energy in the room, and when the students finished, the audience—which included students, parents, teachers, state and local officials and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan—rose to its feet for a standing ovation.

Orchard Gardens is a K-8 school in Roxbury, Mass., which has undergone a dramatic transformation. When it opened in 2003, the school was designated as one of the lowest performing schools in the state. In 2009, the school became part of the Boston Public Schools’ Arts Expansion Initiative, and received a federal School Improvement Grant from the U.S. Department of Education. In 2012, Orchard Gardens became a Turnaround Arts Initiative school, through the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities.

Classroom Visit

Secretary Duncan visits a classroom at Orchard Gardens K-8 school in Roxbury, Mass.

Since 2009, students’ math proficiency scores have improved from six percent to 34 percent. English scores improved from 13 percent to 43 percent proficiency, from 2009 to 2013. Orchard Gardens provides student-specific interventions, coordinated by two full-time school site coordinators. Through community partnerships, students receive health and social services supports.

During Secretary Duncan’s visit he stopped by band class for an impromptu mini concert. One of the students told Duncan that playing the French horn makes him want to come to school each day. Following the assembly, Duncan toured several classrooms and participated in a roundtable discussion with educators and members of the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities to discuss the importance of arts education.

Damian Woetzel, former Principal Dancer with New York City Ballet, and a Turnaround Artist for the Turnaround Arts Initiative, spoke about the importance of arts education during the day’s assembly. “It’s not how we can fit the arts in,” he said, “[but] how the arts can be part of a whole education.”

Secretary Duncan told the students and faculty that the eyes of the country are on them and they’re showing the country what’s possible.

Learn more about the Turnaround Arts Initiative.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education 

A Month to Support the Arts in Our Schools

Music in Our Schools Tour

The Music In Our Schools Tour, featuring Danielle Bradbery of The Voice, which starts in Disneyland and ends at Walt Disney World, honors five schools for their excellent music programs. Pictured from left to right: Student Wendy Holloway; student Anthony Rodarte; singer Danielle Bradbery; Mickey Mouse; and student Angelisa Calderon. (Photo courtesy of Disney Performing Arts/Scott Brinegar)

Cross-posted from the OII blog.

The arts are an important part of a well-rounded education for all students. Arts-rich schools, those with high-quality arts programs and comprehensive course offerings, benefit students in and outside of the art or dance studio, music room, or stage. “All children deserve arts-rich schools,” Secretary Duncan told an audience of arts education advocates in 2012, as he discussed the disappointing results of an ED survey that showed many students lacking adequate access to arts education.

There’s no better time to echo the secretary’s pronouncement than in March, widely known as “Arts in the Schools Month.” Under the leadership of national associations representing teachers of dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts, a variety of activities unfold throughout the month — some that showcase the achievements of students and others that focus on the professional growth of arts educators committed to achieving the goal of arts-rich schools for all students.

Music with a message

What began as a single, one-day event in one state 40 years ago is now Music In Our Schools Month (MIOSM). This year’s theme, “Music Makes Me ______,” invites students to complete that thought on social media with the hashtag #MIOSM2014. Check out the MIOSM website for a number of ways to get in harmony with the celebration, including the Concert for Music In Our Schools Month, featuring videos of school music groups nationwide performing.

Read More

Young Children Learn Math Through the Arts

Amanda Whiteman

Wolf Trap Teaching Artist Amanda Layton Whiteman integrates the arts with math in preschool classrooms as part of the Early STEM/Arts Program. (Photo by Scott Suchman, courtesy of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts.)

President Obama, in the 2013 State the Union address, challenged the country to move forward simultaneously on two key educational fronts — providing high-quality preschool for all four-year olds  and preparing a new generation of Americans in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects.  Teaching artists from the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts and preschool educators in the Fairfax County (Virginia) Public Schools, with support from the U.S. Department of Education, are developing an innovative approach to achieving both of these national goals.

The Early Childhood STEM Learning Through the Arts (Early STEM/Arts) is pioneering an innovative, research-based arts integration model for early childhood learning — one that supports math teaching and learning through active, arts-based experiences in pre-K and kindergarten classrooms.  Preschool teachers participating in the project receive professional development that enables them to apply arts-integrated lessons in their classrooms. Some report “a-ha!” moments as they work alongside Wolf Trap Teaching Artists such as Amanda Layton Whiteman (pictured above). “When I found out it was going to be math, I was saying, oh jeez, this is going to be hard,” said one teacher.  But after being involved with the artist and the arts-integrated approach, she “realized that math is everywhere.” And incorporating the arts into her everyday lessons “helps you reach every child.”

With the help of a $1.15 million Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination grant from the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII), the Early STEM/Arts program will disseminate evaluation results in early 2014. In the meantime, Wolf Trap Regional Programs in 16 locations nationally are gearing up to implement the new model in the 2013-14 school year.

Read OII’s “Wolf Trap Institute Unites the Arts and STEM in Early Childhood Learning” to hear more stories from those at the Wolf Trap Institute.

Testing, Early Learning, and the Pace of Reform: Talking with Teachers

Our work at the US Department of Education aims to make sure that students throughout this country have the education that they deserve – an education that will give every student a genuine opportunity to join a thriving middle class. A crucial part of that work is supporting, elevating and strengthening the teaching profession.

As often as I can, I spend time talking with teachers about their experience of their work, and of change efforts to improve student outcomes. (We have an important effort, called the RESPECT Project, dedicated to make sure that teacher voices consistently informed policy and program efforts here at the Department of Education.)  Lately, we have begun bringing a video camera to the conversation, and teachers have been generous in letting us capture these conversations so others can see them.

Recently, I visited Rogers Heights Elementary School in Bladensburg, Maryland, near Washington, DC. Rogers Heights’ students bring the diversity typical of so many urban communities; its student body is 97% minority, and 89% qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. Half the students have limited proficiency in English.

I was really struck by how smart, committed and passionate the teachers were. We had an intense, honest, sometimes difficult conversation, and I left inspired. The kids at Rogers are in great hands.

I invited teachers to take on any topic they wanted to, and they took on some important and even difficult ones: the pace of reform, the need for arts education, the impact of early learning, and testing. These conversations with teachers help us get smarter about change in education in this country. I hope you’ll take a look; we’ve posted an 8 minute excerpt along with the full video of the hour-long conversation.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education