Three years ago, members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities identified eight of the lowest-performing schools in the country, and enrolled them in a new program called the Turnaround Arts Initiative. The goal: to prove that arts education could improve academic achievement and overall school culture.
Roosevelt School in Bridgeport was selected. Earlier this week, five Roosevelt students traveled to the White House, where they met President and Mrs. Obama.
The First Lady gave a shout-out to the Connecticut school. "Students in Bridgeport have a school band for the first time in 17 years," she said. "They have 100 percent of their teachers, 100 percent that are integrating the arts into their classrooms."
Each school is assigned to work with an artist. Roosevelt was paired with legendary painter Chuck Close, best known for his large-scale portraits of the human face.
Stella Alexander, 14, is one of the students who worked with Close on portrait painting. "His painting looks like photographs," she said. "I can't believe that he could actually do that. I ended up painting him, and apparently, he's painting me. I never painted before, so it was really an interesting experience."
Close is severely paralyzed. His project with the kids included an academic component. Students wrote poems about triumph over adversity.
The White House plans to expand the Turnaround Arts Initiative to 35 schools nationwide. Volunteer artists include Elton John, Frank Gehry, Forest Whitaker and Yo-Yo Ma.