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Cellist Yo-Yo Ma inspires students at Roxbury school

Students at the Orchard Gardens School in Roxbury mimicked ballet moves Thursday as they watched a performance.Photos by John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Students at the Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School in Roxbury were able to see first-hand Thursday where music and the arts can take you, with work hard and perseverance.

Famed cellist and Cambridge resident Yo-Yo Ma and New York City ballet star and Newton native Damian Woetzel, along with members of the Silk Road Ensemble, visited the school to perform and give students tips on their own artistic adventures.

The musicians and performers kicked off a two-year musical and artistic exchange with students and the school community as part of President Obama's Turnaround Arts Initiative, which works with eight underperforming schools across the country to increase arts education. Ma and Woetzel will be Orchard Gardens' resident artists.


"The message is given in so many different ways, but you need to participate, respond, connect, and be constantly curious," Ma told the Globe after leading students in a rendition of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."

Rachel Goslins, executive director of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, which oversees the program, said the arts should be in "the basic tool kit" in addressing the problems schools such as Orchard Gardens face.

"[Students] need to be able to read and do math, but they also need to love learning and be able to think on their own," Goslins said.

Woetzel said that as a child, "it was important for me to see examples, and I think it's valuable to be able to share those experiences."

In 2010, Orchard Gardens was designated a turnaround school because of underperformance and low test scores. Now, with a new principal and techniques, the school has been working to improve test numbers and engage its students.

"This program really opens up a world of possibilities for the students," said Andrew Bott, principal of the school. "They are able to meet the professionals who followed their passion and did a lot of hard work to get there; it sends a really powerful message."


Bott added that making a school better isn't just about standardized test scores.

"This isn't just about turning a school around. We want to make it a school we'd select for our own children," he said. "We want the students to understand everything they do matters, and this is a very real demonstration of that."

Ma and Woetzel, along with the Silk Road Ensemble, performed for more than 200 students.

Patrick D. Rosso can be reached at patrick.d.rosso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @PDRosso