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Three Hawaii schools join national arts program

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A national program that uses arts education to help turn around low-performing public schools is expanding to Hawaii.

The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities announced Wednesday that three Oahu public schools —Kalihi Kai Elementary, Kamaile Academy Public Charter School and Waianae Elementary — will receive funding and resources for three years as part of the Turnaround Arts initiative.

The program, which was launched as a pilot in 2012, helps schools hire arts and music teachers, purchase art supplies and music instruments, and train educators to integrate art with core subjects such as reading, math and science.

The program also works with celebrity artists who “adopt” the schools and work directly with students and teachers to support their arts education. Hawaii’s Turnaround Artists will be local musicians Jack Johnson and Jake Shimabukuro, and actress Alfre Woodard.

“My love of music started as a kid strumming the ukulele in an elementary classroom,” singer-songwriter Johnson, who will be “adopting” Kamaile Academy and Waianae Elementary, said in a statement. “I hope to inspire the kids to dream big and help to create an environment of joy and possibility in their classrooms.”

Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, who will be working with Kalihi Kai Elementary, said, “At the age of four, I was fortunate to have my mother as my first music teacher, sparking my lifelong passion for the ukulele. Sadly, many students in America don’t have access to any form of art in their schools. I hope to turn this around.”

The Turnaround Arts program reaches more than 22,000 of the country’s highest-needs students in 49 schools in 14 states and the District of Columbia. 

Eligible schools are ones selected by the U.S. Department of Education to receive extra resources because they are among the lowest-achieving 5 percent in their state. Selection criteria included demonstrated need and opportunity, strong school leadership, and a commitment to arts education.

The national program was expanded last year after a Booz Allen Hamilton evaluation found academic achievement had improved at participating schools. The study found, on average, Turnaround Arts schools showed a 23 percent improvement in math proficiency and a 13 percent increase in reading proficiency over three years. Attendance rates also improved while student disciplinary issues decreased.

The program is funded through a public-private partnership, with the U.S. Department of Education, the National Endowment of the Arts, the Ford Foundation and other private foundations committing to spend $5 million over the next three years.

The state Department of Education and the Hawaii Arts Alliance will be local program partners.

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