WASHINGTON, DC (CBS) – Students from a Roxbury elementary school strutted their stuff at the White House in the first ever talent show there.

It was a celebration of the Turnaround Arts Program and Roxbury’s Orchard Gardens School was front and center.  Orchard Gardens used arts education as a turnaround tool, and it worked.

First Lady Michelle Obama gave the kids and their school a huge amount of praise and encouragement.

“Is Orchard Gardens here?,” the first lady shouted to the cheers of the students and their teachers.  And then the kids from the Roxbury school took the stage to sing and dance, along with students from several other schools that are part of the pilot program.

“It was a good experience to go somewhere I haven’t been before,” said Orchard Gardens fifth-grader Jose Bones.  “It was really cool.  I saw a lot of things I wanted to see,” added another fifth-grader, Franklin Ramirez.

The talent show was a way of showcasing the Turnaround Arts Program that uses arts education to help underperforming schools.  Orchard Gardens was once one of the worst, but not anymore.

“Today, Orchard Gardens is known as one of the most improved schools in the entire state of Massachusetts,” the first lady proudly announced.

“The arts have been huge. It gives kids an incentive to come to school, something to be excited about,” said Orchard Gardens principal Andrew Bott.

Four years ago, the principal replaced five security guards with five art teachers. Today the arts are integrated throughout the curriculum. First-graders study geometry by using shapes to create designs.  A writing assignment about “identity” becomes a series of self-portraits, and a lesson about Boston includes building a model of the Zakim Bridge.

“We’ve had some of the fastest growth in Massachusetts for three years now in both reading and math,” said Bott. The school has had so much growth that Orchard Gardens is no longer on the underperforming list.

“It does help sometimes because you may need to figure out the X axis and the Y axis, like for painting,” said Orchard Park fifth-grader Anyi Arboleda.  “You’re learning more, so if you learn more you know a lot,” Franklin Ramirez.

The Turnaround Arts Program is expanding from eight to 35 schools nationwide.



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