Theater shows, art exhibits and musical performances are all part of Roosevelt High School's strategy to engage students in school and ultimately boost achievement.

Minneapolis district officials have told principals to focus on math and reading interventions, but Roosevelt's leadership believes an emphasis in the arts will help keep students in school and provide them an equitable education.

Last year the school's parents, students and teachers united to demand more funding from the district's leadership, saying they felt that Roosevelt was shortchanged. Parents and students were outraged that the school would not have enough money to expand arts education and the Spanish immersion program. The district ultimately received $124,000 more than projected.

Theater, art and band classes have long been available in many Minneapolis high schools, but at Roosevelt, the school's resources were often focused on providing remedial math and reading courses. The school serves many of the district's first- and second-generation immigrant students, who often struggle with reading and other courses. Principal Michael Bradley, who has been leading the school since 2011, said the lack of options left the students disengaged and resistant to school.

He shifted his school's dollars from remedial classes and clerical staff to the arts. This year, for the first time since 2005, the school will have a theater program.

On Friday, the school will put together an art crawl to showcase student work, including an improv theater show, a quinceañera fashion show and several art exhibits and concerts. The theme is synthesis, representing a coming together of cultures and beliefs.

Bradley and Candida Gonzalez, a coordinator at the school who created the art crawl, said the event, now in its second year, helps foster a sense of community that has been integral to the school's ability to advocate for itself.

"It's a celebration of community, a celebration of individuals and the talents that the kids bring," Bradley said.

Education officials often focus too much on math and reading remediation and not enough on keeping students engaged. Schools like Roosevelt that serve large populations of poor, minority students often do not have classes or programs that make students feel like they belong in school, Bradley said.

Sam Dibble, a senior, said her classmates embrace the arts and the festivities the school has formed around the program.

"Having [the art crawls] has made the arts students a lot more involved and attentive in class because they are excited to show off their work," Dibble said.

Every ninth- and 10th-grader is required to take at least one art class. Bradley estimates that at least 75 percent of the nearly 900 students take a class in the arts. There are also programs for special education students to participate in adaptive dance and art.

In a Spanish immersion class, a group of students, mostly Hispanic, painted symbols that represent their identity on white masks that will be showcased at the art festival.

Yesica Tello, a sophomore, painted a pencil, representing the importance of an education, a budding flower to symbolize that she is growing up and a mouth made of stitches for the two languages that she speaks, English and Spanish.

"My mask represents that I am a Latina," Tello said.

Students on the improv team, Teddy, Set, Go!, prepped for their performance with several games that focused on teamwork, patterns and communication. Many of the students in the troupe are also performing with other groups or have artwork that will be displayed at the festival.

Gonzalez, the school's coordinator, said the students have found other ways to get involved. The advanced Spanish class is fundraising for a trip to Spain in the spring. A group of girls wanted to put together a fashion show with dresses from their quinceañeras, a traditional coming-of-age party when girls turn 15.

For Gonzalez, the art festival's most important benefit is the sense of community that it creates. Students cheer each other on as they watch their classmates perform. Families come to the school with siblings from other schools.

This environment is integral to boosting student achievement, Bradley said.

"It's not about cheap strategies," Bradley said. "It's about developing a culture of trust, creating a world inside the school that's better than the outside."

Alejandra Matos • 612-673-4028