Turnaround Arts: California (Los Angeles, CA)

Turnaround Arts: California

(Published Originally 08.25.17 on ARTISCEND.COM)

Written By J. Randolph

If you can’t interest people, you can’t educate them.
In 2011 under the Obama administration, The President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities began work on a comprehensive education program to test their hypothesis that a high-quality and integrated arts education could be an effective tool to help school-reform efforts and boost academic achievement.

In 2014, world-famous architect–Frank Gehry and arts education advocate–Malissa Shriver co-founded Turnaround Arts: California to administer the national program to schools within the Golden State. They started with a cohort of 10 schools but today the organization works with 17 schools across 14 districts in California.

The program starts with organizing an Arts Leadership Team that includes the school Principal, Arts and/or Music instructor, and either representatives of each grade level or subject (pending the school size and composition). They meet at least once per month to discuss ways to engage students through artistic expression and creative learning.

​From adding an after-school theatre program at an elementary school in Watts, to escorting business icons like Russell Simmons through a middle school in Compton, to starting a mariachi band in an elementary school in Stockton, the team has committed to supporting schools in whatever it takes to excite students about their schools and their education. On both fronts, it’s working.

According to a 3-year review of the program conducted by the University of Chicago and Booz Allen Hamilton, the program increased student attendance as well as test scores. Even disciplinary referrals declined across the board.

In the first schools implementing the program, (even when compared against schools that had received similar federal S.I.G.s (School Improvement Grants), Turnaround: Arts’ schools performed on average 5-7% better in Math and Reading standardized testing.

While the numbers are impressive, the work they do everyday stands as an immeasurable testament to their will and desire to improve schools and communities nationwide.

The organization’s Program Manager Jacob Campbell spoke at length about the diligence and hard work of all involved from the founders, staff, teachers, students, and community. In their Los Angeles office, Campbell along with Barbara Palley (Director of Program and Strategy) and Heather Heslup (Implementation Coordinator) plow through the daily tasks of event planning and program evaluation while also remaining flexible to take care of the immediate needs of partnering schools.

Campbell maintains however that it’s the community which is responsible for the continued growth and success of the program. He said,

“It’s the teachers that are embedded in the culture and fabric of the school; its teachers at the center; we come to them to say what are the problems and how do we address those challenges?”

Campbell continued,

“It’s a community program and we appreciate that we can lean on the national network. We learn from New Orleans and Chicago. So many contribute to [the success of] what we do.”

Turnaround Arts is an approach to learning and teaching which shows everyone that what students retain is as much about HOW information is presented as it is WHAT information is presented.

As a program, Turnaround Arts has proven itself successful and sustainable. The success is evidence of what arts can do for creating a better learning experience. But as Campbell emphasized, that success is also a testament to what an organized community can do when they stand in support of the educators and children they are preparing for the future.​