The Turnaround Arts Initiative

What do Yo Yo Ma, the world-famous cellist, and expanded time have to do with each other? For the answer, you have to ask the students at Orchard Gardens, an expanded-time school in Boston.  On Dec. 6th, they were privileged to take a master class with Ma as he visited the K-8 school to conduct their orchestra and talk about the power of music. 

Orchard Gardens were honored by this special visit from Ma, as well as New York City ballet star Damian Woetzel, as part of their participation in a joint program of the U.S. Department of Education and the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities called the “Turnaround Arts Initiative.” The initiative provides professional development, supplies and other support to a group of eight low-performing schools that are designated as “turnarounds” and funded through the federal School Improvement Grant program. One form of support is pairing each of the eight schools with a famous artist (or two) to demonstrate in a very concrete way the effect that the arts can have. Ma and Woetzel have volunteered their time to be the artists-in-residence at Orchard Gardens and will visit periodically to educate and inspire.
Visits from these famous artists are not the only reason students at OG are fortunate. They are also attending a school that has become a shining example of how it is possible to ensure that demography is not destiny. Though OG’s students overwhelmingly come from low-income families, they are achieving at high levels, far outpacing their peers in other schools serving similar populations. Education is far too complex a process to identify any one factor as the cause of OG’s success, of course, but surely having a substantially longer day opens up more learning opportunities, opportunities which the teachers and students have seized.  (For a detailed description of the OG story, see our case study on the school, written by my colleague, Roy Chan.) 
News of the visit by the renowned cellist and dancer to OG also calls to mind my own work on the subject of how expanded-time schools offer the platform on which a vision of a well-rounded education—especially one that values the arts—can take shape. In just a few weeks, we’ll be releasing a study that describes how five different expanded-time schools have each forged their own path to positioning the arts at the core of their educational programs.  
Like Orchard Gardens, these schools teach us that engaging students in the arts can not only develop in children abilities that we value in their academic lives—“the process of learning a skill, the process of taking risks, the process of practicing over and over to become an expert at something,” in the words of the OG Principal, Andrew Bott—but also that they engage children in experiences that they may not otherwise get. And this is made possible, in part, by simply having the time available to do art.