Our DC

On Friday, March 9, 2018, twelve 4th-8th graders from four Turnaround Arts: Milwaukee schools boarded a plane for Washington, DC—a city largely defined to them by what is depicted on television, on the internet, or in a textbook. Their purpose: to perform in the Turnaround Arts National Talent Show at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Many of these twelve had never performed before on a national stage—let alone a stage at all, for those whose schools don’t employ arts educators and have only what we refer to as a gym-a-cafe-torium. Some of them have discovered their passion and love for the arts as a means to motivate them to higher academic and social levels, while others had been selected knowing this would be their first time ever performing! Regardless of experience, we held all the students to high expectations—not only to practice, prepare, and perform, but to represent their school, district, city, and state. 

The Arts Transforming Education

Four Milwaukee schools are closing out their first year in the Turnaround Arts program, a model that uses the arts and arts integration to help turnaround schools. While it may be too early in the process for the schools to gauge impact on traditional school improvement indicators such as math and reading, what we did observe was teachers who started collaborating more, and teachers trying new strategies that reinvigorate the classroom for them and for their students. 

The Arts Are a Master Key

“The arts are everything. They are like a master key.”

I recently had an opportunity to spend a couple of hours with the brilliant high school-aged leaders of the Milwaukee Public Schools’ Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council (SSAC). I was one of four presenters discussing city-wide community/collective impact initiatives that are focused on improving outcomes for students. We presented about the mission and vision of our organizations and our own personal backgrounds, but the highlight was when the students presented to us about their “fires” – the issues or injustices they are attempting to tackle through their capstone projects over the course of the next couple of years.

Out-Of-School Time Arts Programs Are (Inherently) Awesome!

With one foot deep in the arts education world and the other deep in youth development and out-of-school time (OST) work, I have come to the not-so-shocking realization that arts programs easily and thoroughly align with and fulfill what experts and participants agree are the key characteristics of successful youth development programs – hurrah for Creative Youth Development!

I participate in Milwaukee’s city-wide OST network, Beyond the Bell, and recently became a trained external assessor for the Youth Program Quality Intervention (YPQI), a quality improvement process developed by the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality. The purpose of the process is to quantify the quality of a youth development program and help organizations create quality improvement plans. The Weikart Center also offers Methods Trainings focused on quality improvements relative to the measures in the tool.

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