As a benefit of being named a Turnaround Arts school for the next two years, Northside Elementary Principal Karla Beck, Cathy Bruce, a music teacher, and Lisa Becker, an art teacher, recently journeyed to a retreat in Virginia to learn more about the initiative and brainstorm ideas.

“The retreat was energizing,” Beck said. “It was filled with professional development ideas to bring to our local teachers surrounding the use of arts at Northside.”

The national Turnaround Arts Initiative's main focus is to help close the achievement gap in schools that have been identified as low-performing, like Northside. Northside is one of four schools in Minnesota, and one of 35 schools in the nation, to be selected for this program by the Perpich Center for Arts Education.

Though Northside has made improvements, the school is continuing to address achievement gaps in multiple areas--such as: Northside’s free-and-reduced lunch students compared with the state's students whose families pay for lunch, “our Special Education achievement levels compared to scores of the students across the state who do not receive these supplementary services, and Northside's Hispanic students as scored in comparison to a composite of all non-Hispanic students in Minnesota,” Beck said. “Using music, visual arts, drama, media, and dance to encourage student thinking, participation, and self-regulation has proven to be one tool to increase student learning and achievement.”

“While there are other benefits to the initiative-- including art supplies, musical instruments, free rights to a Musical Theatre International play, professional development, (and) a nationally-recognized artist in our school--the focus of the work will be to integrate music, visual art, dance, media and drama into students' core curricular experiences,” she continued. Each school is required to create an Arts Leadership Team, which includes arts teachers, general classroom teachers, and administration.

In addition, Beck said Arts Initiative goals will be set by the Arts Leadership Team at Northside. “These goals will be embedded into the School Improvement Plan (SIP) written to accompany our federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) funds.”

Furthermore, partnerships with Crayola, Musical Theatre International (MTI), various music industries and organizations as well as the Perpich Center for the Arts will continue to be formed through the two years of the initiative, Beck said. Crayola is donating thousands of dollars of arts supplies to each school while MTI is allowing each school to produce one of its plays for free each of the two years.

In Virginia, Beck said a highlight was seeing how the focus actors use in their work could be applied as a behavior plan for schools.

“Leading students to understand how to be centered, focused and balanced as individuals allows each student to make choices that support learning and the entire classroom, not just him or herself,” she said. “It is a strategy that we need to explore building-wide at Northside.”

Bruce and Becker both agreed that may have been the most powerful message of the retreat.

“There’s always been a push to tie arts together, but we were never told how to do that,” Bruce added.

Becker and Bruce have both been in their respective positions at Northside for decades, and Bruce said this is the biggest boost the arts have received during her tenure.

For the rest of this story, including added perspective from Beck, Bruce, and Becker, please see the July 17 print edition of the St. James Plaindealer--on sale now.