Kennedy Center Program Improving Access to Arts For All Students

The facts are clear: Students who participate in the arts demonstrate improved academic performance and lower dropout rates. Without the arts, students can face greater difficulty mastering core subjects, higher dropout rates and disciplinary problems. Even with all the established positive effects of arts education, school systems continually cut funds from their arts education departments.

The good news is that new partnerships have been developed that are helping sustain or actually bring back arts programs to underserved public schools across the country.

One such initiative is “Ensuring the Arts for Any Given Child” developed by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The primary goal of “Any Given Child” is to assist communities in developing a plan for expanded arts education, including dance, music, theater, visual arts, and media arts, in their schools, ensuring access and equity for all students in grades K-8. The program blends existing resources of a school system with those of local arts organizations and is currently in 14 metropolitan cities: Austin, Baltimore, Fresno and Sacramento, Iowa City,  Jacksonville, Juneau, Madison, Missoula, Portland, Sarasota, Las Vegas, Springfield, and Tulsa, with more expected to be added before the end of this year. The initiative was recently awarded a $1 million grant from the Newman’s Own Foundation

“’Any Given Child’ has had the largest impact on the greatest number of students and teachers in the shortest period of time for any education program of the Kennedy Center,” explains Darrell Ayers, Vice President of Education for the Kennedy Center. “In 5 years this program went from 0 to impacting 61,000 teachers and over 1,000,000 students.”

In each community, the program is carried out through three phases. In phase one, the school district is guided by a Kennedy Center consulting team. Community leaders participate in a strategic planning process that includes visioning, goal setting, and development of surveys to determine the current status of arts education and to identify where gaps exist in programs and resources. During the completion of this phase, survey findings are applied along with the creation of long-range goals and action steps are created to complete these goals.

Next, guided by an implementation committee, the school district’s strategic plan is put into action. Communications and marketing are vital to this phase. The Kennedy Center consulting team visits the site on a limited basis, and offers technical assistance.

The final phase is centered on sustaining and expanding arts education, which includes ensuring funding, and staffing for program initiatives, communications, and marketing. This phase has no end date but begins during the fifth year of a school district being in the program.

Tulsa Public Schools hopes to ingrain the program as a permanent part of the TPS Curriculum. After two years of strategic planning, the Any Given Child-Tulsa Community Arts team decided to implement the full program without a pilot. Based on the advice of the Kennedy Center, program leaders plan to retain the program in its current format for the first three years of implementation. Tulsa school leaders hope that in year four of implementation that, depending on the budget, they will be able to add Professional Teaching artists to the program to work with teachers and students.

Educators in Tulsa say “Any Given Child” has helped revive arts education in their community.

“Every day I pick up my sword and shield and advocate for dollars to keep arts alive in our schools,” explains Ann Tomlins, fine arts coordinator for the district. “I want to see the arts institutionalized so that by the time one of our students graduates he or she will have a working vocabulary about the arts, a happy memory of a live arts experience, and an interest to support arts in the future.”

The program has also had a tremendous impact in Jacksonville, where it began about a year ago. It has helped the city, according to Duval County School Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti, “become a national leader regarding arts education and exposure to the arts. We’ve been able to lay a solid foundation of a national model in which all families and children are exposed to the arts.”

The Iowa City School District was initially the smallest district to participate In Any Given Child and has maintained a strong presence for arts education in schools, thanks in part to the partnership between the University of Iowa, the  district and the Kennedy Center.

“The partnership has brought community resources forward in a manner that facilitates a systematic plan for providing our students with learning opportunities in the arts. The systematic component is what is so pivotal,” explains Pam Ehly, director of instruction  for Iowa City.

Without the funds and expertise provided by Any Given Child, new arts program in Sarasota, FL. probably would never have seen the light of the day, including the launch of two new orchestra programs and one chorus program at the middle school level.  The local program is also  building teams of teachers who will be participating in arts integration training.

“Long term, we hope to continue building on this amazing arts platform,” said Brian Hersh,  program director of Any Given Child, Sarasota County Schools. “With so many tidal shifts in education, we hope to provide arts programs with the strength, continued relevance and an enduring legacy. Our bottom ,one is that we want to help prepare students to lead successful lives, and we believe this is accomplished with a quality arts education.”

“Infusing arts in every classroom is off the charts in importance,” says Sharon Hatfield, a teacher at Remington Elementary in Tulsa. “Because your students are learning, they’re engaged, they’re happy, they want to be in school. It brings out the best in very child.”