TURNAROUND ARTS: Whitaker Visits Metro School

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Findley Elementary School was one of eight schools nationwide chosen for the "Turnaround Arts" program. The program, sponsored by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, is designed to help turn around low-performing schools with an intense focus on the arts.

The school is about a year into the two year program, and the principal says she can already see the difference in the students and staff.

“There’s so many different pieces from the arts that carry over into those core content classes, and when you combine them together, not only do you have reading and isolation, but them you can bring the drama component,” said Tara Owen, the Principal of Findley, “The visual arts component seems to solidify it, and it increases that engagement. The kids are able to retain that information, and truly enjoy learning those experiences too. So, it’s powerful.”

Owen says attendance and test scores are both up at the school since last year, enrollment has increased and the number of behavior referrals has drastically dropped. The committee behind the program says it’s been seeing that all over the country.

“So often in these schools the solution can be to drill, drill, drill, and more intervention, and more multiple choice test taking,” said Rachel Goslins, the Executive Director of the President`s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. “And what we’re seeing in schools like these is people are solving the same problems by using strategies that expand these children’s vision of the world, and their sense of themselves.”

Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker spent Monday and Tuesday at the school working with the kids.

“The kids are really inspiring. I think what’s really exciting is watching how open they are, and how willing they are to try anything and how much they really are analyzing the situations too to figure out what it means to themselves and to their lives and to their friends. I had a lot of that today and yesterday,” said Forest Whitaker.

Whitaker visited mostly with Findley's 4th graders Monday and Tuesday. The first time he interacted with them was through "Skype" in October. This was his first time meeting them in person, but he says it won't be his last.

Officials with the program say the ultimate goal is for the schools using the program to become a model for everyone.