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Arts program turns around troubled students

Longer school hours and a new trombone turned things around for fifth-grader Lionel Hardy.

By Bob PayneExpandED Schools Manager, Partnership for Youth Development
and Askala Harris, Development Manager, Partnership for Youth Development

Last September, Lionel Hardy, a fifth-grader at Batiste Cultural Arts Academy (BCAA), was facing major behavioral problems.

“Lionel could never stay still in class,” said Ron Gubitz, BCAA principal, as he remembered Lionel consistently getting in trouble, missing days, or spending time with the school’s dean.

“I used to act up all the time,” Lionel agreed.

Yet in May, when CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien visited BCAA, Ron chose Lionel to meet the celebrity and frequent NOLA visitor.

Why was a fifth-grader with a history of behavioral issues meeting with one of the nation’s top journalists?

The answer: collaboration, a longer school day, and a new horn.

After Lionel faced the dean one too many times last fall, Ron met with David Batiste, the school’s namesake and patriarch of New Orleans’ famous Batiste musical family, and his son Damon. Damon’s organization, the NOSACONN (New Orleans South African Connection), runs arts instruction at BCAA, in the heart of the Irish Channel. The three gave Lionel a trombone and more than an hour of after-school band instruction every single day.

Since picking up his horn, Lionel’s path in school has changed.

“His on-task class time has really increased since he picked up the trombone,” said Ron.  Although he still struggles with behavioral issues, “Lionel’s playing has improved his school performance.”

“Band helps me care about school,” said Lionel.

Lionel’s change is no accident. His story is part of the larger one of BCAA expanding its school day.

CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, center, meets in New Orleans with leaders from ReNew Charter School Management, Batiste Cultural Arts Academy, Baptist Community Ministries and Partnership for Youth Development.

In 2010, RENEW (the operator of BCAA) took over one of the lowest-performing schools in the city, Live Oaks Elementary, and worked tirelessly to transform it using high expectations and innovative instruction.

But BCAA administrators soon realized that their students needed more than just great academics. They also needed high-quality arts, all the time.

To give their students a longer, more balanced school day, BCAA and NOSACONN have collaborated with the local Partnership for Youth Development (PYD), with funding from The After School Corporation (TASC), Wallace Foundation and Open Society Foundation. Through the ExpandED Schools program, kids like Lionel receive more hours at school — 35 percent more than the average student — that translate into more time for band, creative writing, and small group book club.

Their strategy is starting to pay dividends. This year, the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities chose BCAA as one of eight nationwide Turnaround Arts Schools. TASC and PYD are growing the ExpandED program at BCAA to 300 students next year, a 100 percent increase.

“RENEW is swarming their kids with arts resources,” said Lauren Bierbaum, Deputy Director of PYD.

This full-on arts assault is what brought Soledad O’Brien, the chair of TASC’s board, to BCAA.

After meeting Lionel and observing two differentiated math classes, she couldn’t help but recognize the correlation between enriching educational activities and academic success.

“I’ve seen lots of kids who are doing better in school — both in the classroom and in sheer attendance stats — because they’re drawn into an activity they love: a robotics program, a dance class, or band,” said O’Brien.

Next time she returns, she’ll hopefully see more Lionels all around the halls and classrooms.



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