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Boston School Reaches Top Ranks Through Art

When the Boston Orchard Gardens School opened in 2003, it was ranked as one of the lowest performing schools in the entire state. Orchard Gardens is a K-8 school—meaning they offer pre-school until 8th grade—located in Roxbury, Massachusetts.

In 2009, the school began its climb to the top by joining the Boston Public School Arts Expansion Initiative. Soon thereafter, the School Improvement Grant from the Department of Education. In 2012, the school was proclaimed a Turnaround Initiative School by the President. Since then, Orchard Gardens’ math proficiency scores have risen by 28% and English competency scores have increased by 30%. The school says that their secret lies in student-specific interventions which help tailor-fit education to students. These interventions are handled and organized by two full-time coordinators.

The Orchard Gardens School has also received health and social services support through their numerous partners and the Turnaround Arts Initiative which is a movement put together by first lady Michelle Obama under the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities (PCAH). The initiative aims to re-vamp the curriculum of schools all over America to encourage creativity and custom-fit learning so that students are equipped with an education that is holistic and which brings out the best in every child. The Turnaround Arts Initiative is a collaborative effort between the government and the private sector—focusing mostly on low-performing, high-initiative public elementary and middle schools, PCAH partners with private companies to help turn schools around through a dynamic arts curriculum.

The Turnaround Arts Initiative’s partners include the White House Domestic Policy Council, the US Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ford Foundation, Crayola, the Herb Alpert Foundation, the NAMM foundation and the Aspen Institute. Put into operation in 2009, the initiative now has eight schools in its care, adopting roughly 1-2 schools per year.

Last week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited the Orchard Gardens School to attend a meeting of the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities. While he was there, he also attended the school assembly during which first graders recited Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous speech. The Secretary says that he was taken aback by the strength of the performance. He also toured the different classrooms after his meeting—among these, the Secretary noted the music class which performed an impromptu mini concert half-way through the class. He proceeds to note that he was especially touched by the statement of a boy from the aforementioned music class who said that being able to play the French Horn in class makes him excited to get up for school everyday.

The Education Secretary’s visit was also a chance for him to check on the progress of Turnaround Arts Initiative Schools; he reports that he was very pleased with what he saw and is convinced now more than ever that the Turn Around Initiative has to grow and expand in the interest of improving the quality of public education throughout the country.

Although the Turnaround Art Initiative’s period for school selection is currently closed, their application and information is as follows: all public elementary and middle schools from all states and communities (whether urban or rural) are eligible to apply. PCAH makes its decisions by thoroughly evaluating the school’s need, the school’s proposal for how it plans to use art to turn its progress around and the reliability and credibility of its principal educators, which will be done by interviewing people from the committee.

Other schools in the Turnaround Arts schools include ReNEW Cultural Arts Academy (New Orleans), Findley Elementary School (Des Moines), Lame Deer Jr. High (Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation), Noel Community Arts School (Denver), the Roosevelt School (Connecticut), Martin Luther King, Jr. School (Portland) and the Savoy Elementary School (Anacostia).

The Orchard Gardens School is now one of the top K-8 schools in the entire state.



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