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It Works for Me…Sharing Successful Techniques and Ideas 10.4

Baldwin Hills Charter/LEARN Elementary and Magnet School has embarked on an exciting new model project to create ongoing links between Los Angeles’ rich community-based arts programs and classroom learning. The goal of this innovative program, tagged “Arts in the City Improves Literacy,” is to improve student achievement and encourage active citizenship and lifelong learning by participation in the city and its arts.

Partially underwritten by a two-year California State Public Schools Grant (given to only a handful of schools from hundreds of statewide applicants) this program, if successful, could have a major impact on the way California school children view and use their city’s arts resources. Despite research that links arts and academic success, school arts programs that reach from the curriculum to the community and back are very rare.

Baldwin Hills Elementary— 86% African American, nestled in a leafy residential area within sight of downtown Los Angeles — is 15 minutes or less from the major museums and performing arts centers of the city and two blocks from one of the most devastated areas of the 1992 riots. The school remains a beacon of achievement and stability even as its neighborhood and school district have struggled. Yet its children remain isolated from the rich cultural resources surrounding them.

Baldwin Hills Principal Jo Anne Polite hopes to change that, to expand the school’s role in the neighborhood and the city. “I envision a time,” she says, “when our students will see their city as an extension of their classrooms, when they will connect their interest in arts to active citizenship.” By taking the students into the community, by making the arts part of their lives and the lives of their families, she anticipates improved student literacy scores. She also anticipates improved “cultural literacy”—knowledge of, familiarity with, and pride in community; a sense of comfort and self confidence in using and participating in the arts; an ease in using the vocabulary and customs of participation, observation and criticism of the arts.

The plan has several initial phases. 1) “Exploring the Arts” – an on-campus lecture series for faculty. 2) Taking field trips – including some unusual ones – with more curriculum connections and more community arts components. 3) Integrating school curriculum and community arts by arranging pre- and post-field trip activities on campus with artists and arts experts. 4) Establishing student arts journals, field notebooks, portfolios and assessment tools. 5) Creating campus murals, banners, and arts bulletin boards to encourage children, their families, faculty and the neighborhood to make the arts-city-school connection.

Cameron Taylor-Brown and Amanda Parsons are community arts consultants and partners in Access Community Arts &Education, of Los Angeles, CA. They are actively working with the school to establish long term, cost effective, and curriculum-based links with the community.

Taylor-Brown, Cameron and Amanda Parsons. “It Works for Me…Sharing Successful Techniques and Ideas,” The Docent Educator 10.4 (Summer 2001): 9.

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