It’s March. Do You know How Strong Your Schools’ Arts Programs Are?

Secretary Duncan talks with students at one of the ED’s frequent Student Art Exhibit Openings at the Department’s headquarters.
The arts are an important part of a well-rounded education for all students. All of the arts – dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts – are essential to preparing our nation’s young people for a global economy fueled by innovation and creativity and for a social discourse that demands communication in images and sound as well as in text. 
The importance of arts education is celebrated each year during March through Dance in the Schools Month, Music in Our Schools Month, Theatre in Our Schools Month, and Youth Art Month. Throughout the country, student presentations in local communities will showcase how the arts infuse creativity and innovation into learning. The month also presents an opportunity to acknowledge the arts specialists who help students reach high standards in the arts, while also serving their school communities as “chief creative officers” who collaborate with classroom teachers to integrate the arts with other core subjects.  Read more

chandra thomas: ACTOR-WRITER-PRODUCER-YOUTH ARTS EDUCATION ADVOCATE

For as long as she can remember, chandra thomas ACTOR-WRITER-PRODUCER-YOUTH ARTS EDUCATION ADVOCATE credits her family for instilling a love of storytelling. Entrenched in her upbringing between Harlem and Long Island was the importance of enduring the history of her family, expressing her insights and opinions about everyday occurrences, from the mundane to the sublime: “Learning about my world through stories became a big influence in terms of my own journey to this quadruple title world that I now live in.” Drawn to work that tells stories, chandra is inspired to tell “unique, stories that aren’t just recycling of stories we have already heard.”
chandra-ACTOR has the capacity to delve into a character’s spirit through their need to tell their story. She actively seeks subjects whose stories might not have been told.  Her mother is an ardent believer in the importance of the arts and took chandra to her first play at the age of five to see Big River.  Although awed by the spectacle and magic of live theater it wasn’t until she was in high school when she went to see Rent  that she had her “aha” moment:  “I saw people who I knew…people who were in the neighborhood that I grew up in, friends that I hung out with, family that I recognized.  There were people whose stories I had never seen on a stage, no less a Broadway stage, before.” Armed with this new vision, chandra-PRODUCER makes it her mission to promote points of view that might not have otherwise been heard.
And this is why chandra-YOUTH ARTS EDUCATION ADVOCATE  co-founded viBe Theater Experience whose mission is to empower teenage girls through the collaborative, performing arts.  For ten years she has been working with teen girls form all over New York City to create original plays, performances, music, poems, videos, poetic performances originally derived by the young women in a collaborative environment:  “It’s really about the girls speaking from their own voices; it’s often the first time girls [have their voices] validated…to be able to say what they have to say [and that] it’s important, that someone wants to hear it, and very often it’s the first time they discover they are not the only one [who shares similar experiences].”  Using the arts as a vehicle, these young women develop skills such as literacy, critical thinking, cultural competency, marketing, advocacy:  “Our goal is to create well-rounded, well-informed young women who are prepared to meet all challenges, all triumphs ahead…we’re preparing young women to make decisions about what their future is and create the path to achieve that future.”  Girls have gone on to medical school, some in politics, law school, English teachers, and some even become artists! One particular story stands out for chandra: She came to the tryout on the arm of a viBe Alum and spent much of the session detached from the discussion.  When asked why she was interested in being a viBe Girl, she sat there stunned.  In the most eloquent terms, she described how this was the first time she was in a space “where people just listen to me.” Not only did she thrive as a member of the project, but also went on to receive a full scholarship to St. John’s University; a girl who never even considered going to college as an option before working with viBe!  “She found the core of her real story,” interjects chandra, “she had all these other things around it, but it was really…she didn’t know that [she] could afford it.”  Had she not been in the kind of supportive environment she might not have realized her destiny. Today she’s interested in being an English major; this is a “viBe success story. Even as this young woman has academic pursuits outside of” The Arts”, this is a success story as viBe uses art as the vehicle not the destination.”
chandra-WRITER  upcoming play, a one-act called Standing At…  and tells the story of 2 women from the South Bronx  who are long time friends, and one is surviving HIV.  It has poetry woven throughout, original songs that capture traditional Gospel songs, and  ”it’s that storytelling.  “It comes right back to where I started—that storytelling.  That really specific story of two real people being in the same space and how much beauty there is right there.” The play opens March 30th at HERE Arts Center, 145 6th Avenue, NYC.  Follow chandra  on her website, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

Born to Not Get Bullied

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
The New York Times

When she was in high school, Lady Gaga says, she was thrown into a trash can. The culprits were boys down the block, she told me in an interview on Wednesday in which she spoke – a bit reluctantly – about the repeated cruelty of peers during her teenage years. “I was called really horrible, profane names very loudly in front of huge crowds of people, and my schoolwork suffered at one point,” she said. “I didn’t want to go to class. And I was a straight-A student, so there was a certain point in my high school years where I just couldn’t even focus on class because I was so embarrassed all the time. I was so ashamed of who I was.” Searching for ways to ease the trauma of adolescence for other kids, Lady Gaga came to Harvard Universityon Wednesday for the formal unveiling of her Born This Way Foundation, meant to empower kids and nurture a more congenial environment in and out of schools.
Lady Gaga is on to something important here. Experts from scholars to Education Secretary Arne Duncan are calling for more focus on bullying not only because it is linked to high rates of teen suicide, but also because it is an impediment to education. A recent study from the University of Virginia suggests that when a school has a climate of bullying, it’s not just the targeted kids who suffer – the entire school lags academically. A British scholar found that children who simply witness bullying are more likely to skip school or abuse alcohol. American studies have found that children who are bullied are much more likely to contemplate suicide and to skip school.  The scars don’t go away, Lady Gaga says. “To this day,” she told me, “some of my closest friends say, ‘Gaga, you know, everything’s great. You’re a singer; your dreams have come true.’ But, still, when certain things are said to you over and over again as you’re growing up, it stays with you and you wonder if they’re true.”
Any self-doubt Lady Gaga harbors should have been erased by the huge throngs that greeted her at Harvard. “This might be one of the best days of my life,” she told the cheering crowd.  The event was an unusual partnership between Lady Gaga and Harvard University in trying to address teen cruelty. Oprah Winfrey showed up as well, along with Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services.  Kathleen McCartney, dean of the Graduate School of Education here at Harvard, said that she and her colleagues invited Lady Gaga because they had been searching for ways to address bullying as a neglected area of education – and as a human rights issue. As many as one-fifth of children feel bullied, she said, adding: “If you don’t feel safe as a child, you can’t learn.”
Lady Gaga describes her foundation as her “new love affair,” and said that, initially, she thought about focusing on a top-down crackdown on bullying. But, over time, she said, she decided instead to use her followers to start a bottom-up movement to try to make it cooler for young people to be nice.  I asked Lady Gaga if people won’t be cynical about an agenda so simple and straightforward as kindling kindness. Exceptionally articulate, she seemed for the first time at a loss for words. “That cynicism is exactly what we’re trying to change,” she finally said.  Bullying isn’t, of course, just physical violence. Lady Gaga’s mother, Cynthia Germanotta, who will serve as president of the Born This Way Foundation, says that one of the most hurtful episodes in her daughter’s childhood came when schoolmates organized a party and deliberately excluded Lady Gaga.  Lady Gaga was reluctant to talk too much about her own experiences as a teenager for fear that her foundation would seem to be solely about bullying. Her aim is a far broader movement to change the culture and create a more supportive and tolerant environment. “It’s more of a hippie approach,” she explained.
“The Born This Way Foundation is not restitution or revenge for my experiences,” Lady Gaga told me. “I want to make that clear. This is: I am now a woman, I have a voice in the universe, and I want to do everything I can to become an expert in social justice and hope I can make a difference and mobilize young people to change the world.”  Yes, that sounds grandiose and utopian, but I’m reluctant to bet against one of the world’s top pop stars and the person with the most Twitter followers in the world. In any case, she’s indisputably right about one point: Bullying and teenage cruelty are human rights abuses that need to be higher on our agenda.

www.FrancesMcGarry.com

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