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City schools get $4m arts programs boost

Foundation grant enhances initiative

DAVID L. RYAN/GLOBE STAFF

About 90 percent of elementary and middle school students, like Dayana Alonzo of Pilot Middle School, take weekly arts classes.

The Boston public schools have received a $4 million grant to maintain and expand arts education for students across the city.

Superintendent Carol R. Johnson said the grant, from the Wallace Foundation in New York, will greatly enhance an initiative launched three years ago by the school district, the city, and outside partners to provide more instruction in the visual and performing arts.

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“In Boston, we have defined arts education as a part of a quality education for all students,’’ said Johnson, who is scheduled to announce the grant today at a Dorchester school with Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

The grant is being awarded as the school district says it has made progress in bolstering instruc tion, curriculum, professional development, and family engagement in the arts.

A study in 2009 said that the availability of arts instruction varied greatly from school to school, with opportunities dwindling as students moved to higher grades. Since the district launched the initiative, the number of students receiving arts education has risen by 14,000.

About 90 percent of elementary and middle school students now receive weekly arts education, up from 67 percent three years ago. And the number of high school students exposed to arts education has doubled in the same period, the officials said.

Eileen Nash, principal of the Beethoven and Ohrenberger schools in West Roxbury, said her philosophy is that urban educators are responsible for providing students opportunities they may not receive outside the classroom. “If I didn’t offer them musical instrument time during school day, they wouldn’t get it outside of school,’’ she said.

Nash said she has seen the direct impact that arts education in school can have on students as young as third grade, through the Making Music Matters program at her schools.

“What we saw was kids were so responsible that even though they were elementary school kids and came in on buses, they never lost an instrument,’’ she said. “That sense of responsibility transferred over to academics.’’

EdVestors, a local nonprofit that describes itself as “a catalyst for change in urban schools,’’ works to bring donors to match national funding for the Arts Expansion Initiative. In 2009, the group set a goal of raising $10 million by 2015. With today’s announcement and with more than $4 million already raised, the initiative is $1.5 million shy of its goal, officials said.

The initiative “has been a tremendous example of how a public-private partnership can work effectively for the benefit of kids,’’ said Laura Perille, executive director of EdVestors.

Education specialists have said the arts can promote creative thinking and instill an interest in school for students at risk of dropping out. Johnson has said she wants Boston schools to better reflect the city’s vibrant cultural life.

“I take a lot of pride to say my Boston public schools could be matched equally in the arts to any suburban schools,’’ Nash said.

Colin A. Young can be reached at colin.young@globe.com.
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