Maggie: Tom is here with me now to tell us about a talent show that kicks it up to a whole other level.
Tom: Yeah, Maggie. Well, this isn’t just any talent show. The audience for this one happens to include the first lady Michelle Obama. And the stage? Well, it is the White House.
It was the first-ever White House talent show, and these performers had to do a lot to get on this stage. They are students who come from different troubled schools that have been involved in an experiment by the White House and the Department of Education to see if an arts program could help turn the schools around.
Jared Gray is a 6th grader at one of those schools. He used to be a troublemaker.
Jared Gray: I cut out of class a lot.
Tom: Four years ago, everything was failing at his school in New Orleans, Louisiana. Fewer than 15% of the students could read at grade level. It was one of the lowest testing schools in the state. It was renamed as the ReNEW Cultural Arts Academy. Now students count the measures in band or stand up in math class to act out a bar graph. And it is paying off.
With the new curriculum, the school has seen a 20-point rise in standardized tests over five years.
Ron Gubitz: It’s not just to have a music education class, you know, during the school day or after school, but it’s actually use music and use visual arts and use theater to teach core content.
Tom: The change was enough to get recognition from the White House. ReNEW is one of the turnaround schools that was granted funding to hire more arts teachers, tripling the time kids spend learning the arts.
Alfre Woodard: Freeze! Freeze!
Tom: Alfre Woodard volunteers her time at the school.
Alfre Woodard: We’ve been doing that work to set a template so that any school sees that it’s possible to do this. Enrollment stays steady – it goes up – behavioral problems go down, and the culture of the schools are transformed.
Tom: And so have the opinions of some of the students. At first, seventh-grader Angela Russell didn’t want to go to school at ReNEW.
Angela Russell: I heard from friends that there was a lot of stuff going on – like fights – and teachers weren’t really teaching.
Tom: But she says things are better since the school decided to put more emphasis on arts education. Exactly what the program was designed to do.
Angela: I like everything about being here. It’s like the first school I’ve ever really enjoyed.
Tom: As for Jared, when he heard that he was going to the White House to put on a talent show…
Jared: I got home, and I was like, ‘wait I’m going to Washington? I just laid in my bed. I was like, ‘oh goodness!’
Tom: A high note for both the White House and the students.
And the initiative has been so successful that the White House has decided to expand it to 35 schools this year.
Maggie: Thanks, Tom.