Students at Bethune Community School performed spoken word poetry, songs and chants for actor Sarah Jessica Parker on Monday as part of a program intended to help the school boost academic achievement through the arts.
Kindergartners, wearing glittery wings, sang about the life cycle of a butterfly. Third-graders shared their dreams and ambitions through beat boxing spoken word, and a group of students in a stomp group proclaimed black lives matter.
The performances illustrated the way teachers and administrators have used arts to rethink the way they teach different concepts to students. The school was selected to participate in a national program known as Turnaround Arts, which targets the nation’s lowest performing schools with arts-focused curriculum and resources. The program is an initiative of President Obama’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. Bethune is one of 54 schools around the country and four schools in the state that are in the program.
Parker opted to “adopt” Bethune as one of her schools because her mother taught in schools with similar challenges to those Bethune faces. She also said she has a longtime connection to Minneapolis, saying her parents occasionally visited to watch theater productions at the Guthrie and shop at the department store Dayton’s.
“All these teachers have been so creative about how to use arts, and it’s changing their classroom,” said Parker, who also sponsors a school in Portland, Ore.
At the assembly showcasing students’ performances, a student wrote a poem to her teacher, saying she wants to one day be just like her. Parker noted that the teacher was shaking with emotion and said the student was an inspiration.
“It’s a perfect moment because she does all of that, she says who she admires, who is making a difference in her life, what excites her,” Parker said. “I don’t know that anybody before that had allowed her the opportunity. That’s the difference the arts can make.”
Cheryl Martin, Bethune’s principal, said the program has helped change the culture at the school. The Perpich Center, a state agency, provided training and resources to the school, including arts instructors, musical instruments and professional development for teachers and administrators.
Martin said all of her teachers are choosing to come back to teach at Bethune next year, a big accomplishment for a school that has faced high teacher turnover in the past. The school has also seen a 75 percent drop in behavior referrals, and preliminary testing data is showing double-digit growth in meeting reading standards.
Parker also visited classrooms and met with school administrators. The program will remain at Bethune for two more years, and Parker said she will continue to meet with the school, even if it is remotely.