Group donates $50,000 to school arts program

Booker T. Washington to continue participating in BSO initiative

March 26, 2001|By Kimberly A. C. Wilson | Kimberly A. C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

When the principal of Booker T. Washington Middle School accepts a $50,000 check today from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, it will mean more than a year of do-re-mi.

The money can open a math class to a drummer who turns fractions into noisy play.

It can pay a flutist to illustrate tone and character to a roomful of literature students.

It will allow a singer whose slave songs mesmerized a social studies class to return for an encore.

The $50,000 donation from a New York-based financial institution will extend for a year the school's participation in Arts Excel, a pilot program begun by the symphony in 1995 to help enhance learning in core subjects at eight Baltimore public schools by using musical concepts.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Maryland section about a $50,000 gift from CitiFinancial Corp. to Booker T. Washington Middle School gave an incorrect location for the financial institution's headquarters. CitiFinancial is based in Baltimore at 300 St. Paul Place. The Sun regrets the error.

The grant will cover the expense of bringing a different artist to the school each month during the next school year.

Principal Ruth Bukatman, who has introduced the arts into math, science and language arts curriculum at the school over the past seven years, welcomes an infusion of private funding to keep the effort alive.

"Without the money, we could not pay for the arts" in the 2001-2002 school year, Bukatman said last week at the historic red-brick school on Marble Hill in Southwest Baltimore.

Officials from the BSO and CitiFinancial Corp. plan to pack a classroom at Booker T. Washington this morning to announce the funding.

Booker T. Washington is Baltimore's only public middle school with a focus on the arts, Bukatman said.

For Michael S. Knapp, chief executive officer and president of CitiFinancial, the first private company to fund an individual city school's arts education goals, the money is an investment in Baltimore's next generation.

"It does more than expose children to music, it helps make the connection between music and what they learn in the classroom," Knapp said. "That is invaluable."

Arts Excel, the symphony's education initiative, was established in 1995. Its goal is to give students a new appreciation for their core subjects.

"It is our hope that through the arts, not only will the students be enriched by exposing them to music and theater but it would also improve their math and language skills," said Lucinda Williams, vice president of artistic and education programming at the orchestra.

Even before the symphony stepped in, Bukatman had turned to the arts as a way to rescue the school and its pupils. In 1993, the principal won a Challenge Grant from the state Department of Education to develop a new curriculum based on the premise that all learning can take place through the arts.

"That's a bit of an exaggeration but it got us the grant," recalled Bukatman, a former math teacher.

A year later, she marshaled state funding to establish Arts Academy at Booker T. Washington, a school within a school that offers 150 seventh- and eighth-graders a chance to concentrate on dance, chorus, drama, visual arts or music during elective classes.

By 1995, when the BSO announced plans to offer Arts Excel to eight public schools - giving many students their first exposure to the arts - Booker T. Washington was positioning itself as the city's artistic middle school.

Bukatman, entering her 15th year as principal, said the effort is paying off in regular attendance and an increase in the number of pupils who pass entrance exams at Baltimore's citywide high schools.

Successes occur despite the challenges facing much of the pupils: 90 percent live at or below poverty level, 22 percent require special education and 60 percent who begin a school year there have moved elsewhere or dropped out by year's end.

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