It's ten o'clock in the morning and Mrs. Dotty's 7th and 8th grade English class at Marcy Open School is looking a little sleepy. But today, Mrs. Dotty has some help getting their attention. She hands the class over to spoken word artist e.g. bailey, who takes the class through a round of vocal exercises to get the group warmed up.
Through the Minneapolis Public Schools' Arts for Academic Achievement program, bailey works with Dotty's English classes once a week for three to four months. He's teaching them to write and perform their own poetry. By the end of the year the class will produce its own CD and hold an open house to show off its work. Dotty says what she gets is a very specialized program for her students.
"I'm not a poet by trade," says Dotty, "and having someone who's actually doing it, who's really out there, makes it more real for the students. It's an access point to reach kids who might be disenchanted. If I just jumped in with Shakespeare it wouldn't mean as much to them without the components that e.g. brings."
Today, bailey's brought in a couple of other professional poets to talk about their own experiences performing. Reggie Harris leans against a counter on the side of the classroom, a lion's mane of dreadlocks framing his face. The class is giving Harris its full attention. He reminds them that they are each unique, and therefore no one else will write poetry quite like they do. By the end of the class, kids are getting up and performing their own pieces.
Uve Hamilton, the program director of Arts for Academic Achievement, says its goal is to engage students and motivate them to learn through art.
"What we try to do is embed the arts in the regular classroom. There are so many ways of experiencing the arts," says Hamilton.
For some classes that might mean incorporating photography into a history lesson or theater into a writing class.
Arts for Academic Achievement is Minnesota's largest artists-in-schools program sponsored by a school district. It was established in 1997 and now reaches more than 9,000 students in 38 schools each year. The program has an annual budget of approximately $1 million, with $400,000 of that coming from the school district and the rest from grants and private donations.
The price tag puts such a program out of reach for many school districts in the state. But that doesn't leave them without options. School districts can also contract with other organizations, like COMPAS, to provide artist residencies on a project basis.
"I don't think that there's exactly a one-size-fits-all answer," says Daniel Gabriel, arts education program director for COMPAS, "certainly not when you're talking about something as joyful and rambunctious as multiple art forms and multiple age groups and all kinds of geographic situations."
Director Uve Hamilton of Arts for Academic Achievement admits having teachers and artists co-create an extensive curriculum for students can be time- and cost-intensive. But in the long run, she says it's worth it.
"By working within the system," says Hamilton, "we bring together a huge and powerful base of support to make these critical linkages between the arts and what students need to know and understand."
Arts For Academic Achievement will receive formal recognition of its work Monday when it's presented with the Sally Ordway Irvine Award for Arts Education.