WASHINGTON – First lady Michelle Obama’s goal to inspire and change schools across the country was in full effect at the White House talent show on Tuesday.
Students sang,danced and played instruments to an audience that included their parents and teachers.
Actress Alfre Woodard and her partner school ReNEW Cultural Arts Academy in New Orleans performed a touching spoken word piece,“I Envision a Time,” reminiscing about Hurricane Katrina and how it was hard for the city to fund the schools.
Students from Orchard Gardens,a K-8 school in Boston,opened with xylophones and bagpipes and dancers,while students from Savoy Elementary School in Washington danced to African-descent music. The energetic students closed the hour-long program with a boy singing “Yes,You Can” by Donnie McClurkin as girls decked out in pom-poms danced. All of the children,Obama,Parker and Woodard joined them on stage.
Obama and President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities hosted the talent show for the first time. Six schools from around the country associated with Turnaround Arts initiative came out to showcase their talents to the first lady,the White House,their teachers and families.
Obama thanked the students for participating in the show and recognized the improvements she has seen in their schools. It has been three years since the launch of Turnaround Arts,and the initiative has exceeded expectations. Math and recording scores are up,along with an improvement in attendance and a decrease in disciplinary actions.
“Two of the eight schools have improved so dramatically,and they are no longer in the Turnaround status,” Obama said.
At Orchard Gardens,test scores were among the lowest in the state before Turnaround Arts. Principal Andrew Bott said he believes in the power of the arts so strongly that he fired school security guards and hired five new art and music teachers. Orchard Garden is known as one of the most improved schools in the state of Massachusetts.
About half of the students from Savoy Elementary School were at the “basic” level in reading and math,with a third “below basic” in math and a fourth “below basic” in reading. The school,which was once the lowest performing schools in the District,has improved student test scores recently. The disciplinary rate also dropped by 70 percent.
Actress Sara Jessica Parker performed with partner school from King School in Portland,Ore.,She and Turnaround Arts have funded partnerships with local arts education and cultural organizations,along with art and music supplies.
“It has been joyous for our students to perform in musicals for the first time,” Parker said. “They are not only performing and loving the opportunity to express themselves,but they are also building the sets and making the costumes and working toward a brand new experience.”
As the first lady danced with all of the children at the end of the hour-long show,President Barack Obama made a surprise appearance.
He joked,”I’ve got talent. I’ve got some talent,but I wasn’t invited to be part of the show.”
He thanked the first lady for her initiative and said the arts are essential to who we are as a people and necessary for children to succeed.
Reach reporter Sekia Mangum at [email protected] or 202-326-9867. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.