All 86 seventh- and eighth-grade students at Lame Deer Junior High School will have a musical opportunity next fall to broaden their horizons and hopefully their futures.
They’ll also have a chance to immerse themselves in higher levels of the visual arts, from pottery to painting.
The school in the heart of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation was among eight high-poverty elementary and middle schools nationwide selected to participate in a new arts education program designed to help turn around low-performing schools.
The idea behind the two-year “Turnaround Arts” initiative — developed in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Education and the White House Domestic Policy Council — is that participation in the arts spurs improvement in academics.
A statement issued Monday by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities referred to three studies released in April that determined that involvement in the arts can improve grades, spark creativity, increase chances of college enrollment, raise aspirations and promote civic engagement.
“Research shows that when students participate in the arts, they are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, have higher GPAs and SAT scores and show significantly higher levels of mathematic proficiency by grade 12,” the release said.
It also said student are more engaged and cooperative with teachers and peers and more self-confident and better able to express their ideas.
But schools in high-poverty areas are 50 percent less likely to have music and arts programs, Department of Education studies show.
Aundre Bell, principal at Lame Deer Junior High School, said the school district already has an art teacher who is excited about teaching more advanced forms to her students. And an experienced music teacher who has worked with bands and choirs elsewhere has shown interest in joining the school staff, he said.
Music teacher in budget
The initiative will not pay for a music teacher, but Bell said the district has budgeted for one.
“We’ve just never been able to secure one before,” he said.
Music teachers are hard to come by in rural Montana. The candidate Bell mentioned is familiar with the Lame Deer area and has been told about the opportunities the Turnaround Arts program provides.
“She is very, very excited to work along with that,” Bell said.
The grant will provide $10,000 for musical instruments during each of the next two years — something the district has not been able to afford. Another $10,000 each year will be provided for art supplies.
Bell and the two teachers will attend the Aspen Institute leadership program in Colorado this summer to study in-school professional development, partnerships with community arts education and cultural organizations, art supplies and musical instruments and community engagement events.
As part of the program, renowned artists and performing artists have volunteered to adopt schools to help integrate the arts into curriculums. Lame Deer has been adopted by famed ballet dancer, choreographer, producer and director Damian Woetzel.
Woetzel, a member of the President’s Council on the Arts and the Humanities, was a principal dancer for the New York City Ballet from 1989 to his retirement from the stage in 2008. Since then he has been involved in producing and directing dance and music performances. He is also a choreographer and has produced pieces for, among others, the New York City Ballet.
“I’m honored to be working with Lame Deer Junior High School over the next two years,” he said in a prepared statement. “I believe that the arts can enrich and transform the lives of individual students by creating passionate enthusiasm for learning, and increasing participation and engagement with the world beyond the classroom. I am truly looking forward to working toward these goals with the teachers and students at Lame Deer.”
Bell said he expects Woetzel will be coming to the remote reservation community during the next school year. The principal said he understands that Turnaround Arts will be bringing people into the school during the next two years to help students and teachers get the program on its feet.
The Lame Deer School District is involved in a concerted effort to improve its entire school system.
Two years ago, it launched a major program to rescue its failing high school. Along with four other school districts in Montana’s academically lowest 5 percent, it became part of the Schools of Promise program initiated by Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau. The three-year program, which provides specialists, training and materials to improve student academic performance, was federally funded through School Improvement Grants.
Turnaround Arts adds another component to the district’s efforts, Bell said. He said he will spend the remainder of spring putting plans together.
The initiative is a public-private partnership. Partners include the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ford Foundation, the Herb Alpert Foundation, Crayola, NAMM Foundation, the Aspen Institute and Booz Allen Hamilton. Inktell and SKDKKnickerbocker are providing additional support and resources.
Turnaround Arts is being run and managed by the Arts Education Partnership, a national coalition administered by the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Department of Education.
Other schools chosen through a competitive process are Batiste Cultural Arts Academy at Live Oak School in New Orleans; Findley Elementary School in Des Moines, Iowa; Noel Community Arts School in Denver; Orchard Gardens K-8 in Boston; Savoy Elementary School in Washington, D.C.; Martin Luther King Jr. School in Portland, Ore., and Roosevelt School in Bridgeport, Conn.