The Brooklyn Center school is now a Turnaround Arts school, which mixes the arts into all subjects.
Poised atop a small stepladder, Jamiah Ward carefully stenciled royal blue paw prints onto the walls of the gym at Northport Elementary School last Tuesday afternoon.
The fifth-grader was part of an advance team of students, school staffers and community members prepping the Brooklyn Center school for its new role as a Turnaround Arts school. The federal program aims to use the arts to help schools close the achievement gap and increase student involvement.
Jamiah and her second-grade brother, Jamir, were among nearly 150 volunteers who converged on the school to paint colorful murals and accent walls. They ventured outside, too, landscaping, planting flowers and adding color to otherwise plain wooden benches.
As she stepped back to admire her work, Ward noticed that the playful paw print “really shows more of the bear,” the school’s mascot.
“The gym looks totally different. Seeing how the school looks, it’s amazing,” she said, not seeming to mind the paint streaks on her jeans.
She’s eager to point out the improvements to her friends, including her very own handiwork. “I can’t wait for school to start,” Ward said.
The enthusiasm bred by the arts is one reason why education officials are turning to them to boost regular academics.
Northport is among four schools in Minnesota and 35 nationwide that were chosen to participate in the program this year. Elementary and middle schools with a “priority” ranking with the state Department of Education, or those that are lagging academically were invited to apply to the program.
They had to make a case for “the need and opportunity, strong school leadership and a commitment to arts education,” program materials state. Less than half of Northport’s students scored at the proficient level on state reading, math and science tests in 2013.
Northport, a highly diverse school where 87 percent of its 600-plus students are on free or reduced lunch, had already been seeking out ways to strengthen its art offerings, said Principal Leona Derden. Now, through Turnaround Arts, the school will “weave art education into all areas of the curriculum,” she said.
Partners pitch in
Getting help from outside the school has been important, too.
Volunteers came and went in shifts beginning at 8 a.m. Julie Baumeister, a fifth-grade teacher at the school, spent much of her time on Tuesday directing volunteers at the check-in table. “The community involvement has been overwhelming,” she said, adding that Home Depot, Target and other local partners sponsored the event.
The projects will continue well after school starts next week. A couple of murals will be created later in the year that will rotate. That includes a big map displaying the many places across the globe where students’ families come from, Baumeister said.
The Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley is heading up the Turnaround Arts initiative in the state.
The Perpich Center’s Alina Campana, the program director for Turnaround Arts: Minnesota, attended Northport’s beautification day.
It “sends a message about what’s important at the school,” she said. Right away when students start school, they’ll see that something is different in the building, she said.
Sheri Tamte, the implementation coordinator for the program, was also on hand. She said the challenge for each participating school is to ask itself, “ ‘How can we scream the theme, and look like an arts-rich environment, how can we promote it and walk the walk?’ ” she said.