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East Boston schools receive grants for expanded arts and music programs

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  June 23, 2011 12:19 PM

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( Jeremy C. Fox for

Samuel Adams Elementary is one of five schools in East Boston and 48 across the city that will expand arts and music education with the assistance of a grant program.

Five East Boston schools are among the 48 public schools recently awarded $825,000 in grants to expand arts and music programs.

A total of $100,000 was awarded to Samuel Adams Elementary, Manassah E. Bradley Elementary, Hugh Roe O’Donnell Elementary, Mario Umana Middle School Academy, and East Boston High School. The funds were granted through a five-year, $5.5 million Arts Expansion Initiative created through a public-private partnership between Boston Public Schools; EdVestors, a nonprofit working to improve Boston schools; and several local donors.

At Adams Elementary, in Jeffries Point, a $24,000 grant will support the expansion of two existing arts programs. One, a collaboration with the Community Music Center of Boston, supports a general music class for grades K1 – 3, recorder instruction for the third grade, and violin instruction for grades 4 and 5.

Previously the classes were only funded for half the year, but through these grants, the school will be able to offer them all year long.

Another program, done in collaboration with Very Special Arts Massachusetts, will expand a program where autistic students learn alongside other students in classes on the visual arts, movement and drama. Principal Margarita Ruiz said the classes are integrated with the general curriculum and are a powerful tool for reinforcing concepts the children are learning in their other classes.

“It’s incredible just see the children being able to express their knowledge,” Ruiz said. She said earlier this year, when the students were studying the growth of plants, their movement teacher led an exercise where the children mimicked plants pushing their way up through the soil. “For our children with autism, that is a very powerful way of understanding how a seed grows into a plant,” Ruiz said.

“Also, from the parents’ point of view,” she said, “the parents of our children with autism also get to come to our school concerts and their children perform just like any other child in our building. It’s a tremendous community-building [program] in our school.”

Ruiz said the interaction has changed the other students’ perceptions of their classmates with autism and helped them learn to respect their differences. She said the programs area also helpful for the large number of immigrant students who are learning English at the school.

“What better way to get students to learn the language and really get acquainted with the culture than through music and the arts?” Ruiz said. “So for us it’s just amazing, and a way of building vocabulary for our English-language learners.”

The grants supplement funds dedicated to the Arts Expansion Initiative by BPS and are made possible through a partnership with EdVestors, which helps bring the school district together with funders seeking to improve public education. Laura Perille, executive director of EdVestors, said the organization uses “strategic philanthropy as one of our levers,” as in this initiative, one of largest programs the group coordinates.

“We work both with educators, frontline school leaders, and district leaders around potential school-change initiatives,” said Perille, “and then also work with donors and funders to amass the philanthropic capital that might accelerate some of those initiatives, often partnered with public funding from the schools and the district, depending on the scale of the initiative.”

The group works with schools, the district, and nonprofit partners who have ideas for improving programs and at the same time with funders who want to support effective school-improvement strategies, Perille said. EdVestors performs the due diligence on proposals to ensure that they are a wise investment of the donors’ capital and monitors programs over time to gauge their effectiveness.

Other current BPS programs supported by EdVestors include one seeking to increase access to algebra in the eighth grade and a range of literacy strategies focused on English-language learners.

Perille said the arts expansion fund supplements programming created and funded by the district under the direction of Superintendent Carol R. Johnson with the goal of increasing “access, equity and quality of arts learning opportunities for all of Boston’s students.” Organizations contributing to the fund include the Barr Foundation, the Boston Foundation, Hunt Alternatives Fund, the Klarman Family Foundation, and the Linde Family Foundation.

F. Javier Torres, senior program officer for the arts at the Boston Foundation, said the initiative was a good match for the foundation because it falls into two of the seven impact areas — both arts and education — where the foundation focuses its efforts.

“This was an opportunity to be able to marry both of those impact areas in order to achieve greater outcomes for Boston Public Schools students,” Torres said. “The Boston Foundation, just like Superintendent Johnson, knows that the arts are fundamental to a well-rounded education. Arts in education really support students in developing creativity and collaboration and are absolutely important to developing a productive future work force.”

Torres said the foundation isn’t “looking to count clarinetists” — that the goal isn’t to direct students to the arts as a career, though it’s great if some go that way. The real intent is “for the arts to provide perspective and to support creative thinking,” attributes that are helpful across a variety of experiences.

“There are so many challenges that young people in the inner-city face,” Torres said, “and the arts are an opportunity to really express those and find creative answers to some of those challenges, and help kids really be able to focus and set some goals for themselves.”

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