City schools get arts grant

Ford Foundation provides $125,000 for partnerships with institutions to promote more `active learning'

August 03, 2004|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore school system has been awarded a $125,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to create partnerships with local arts institutions that would make music, drama and other cultural arts an integral part of the school day.

To help pupils absorb lessons about the Declaration of Independence, for example, museums might be persuaded to host traveling exhibits from the Smithsonian Institution or museums in Philadelphia, said schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland. Teachers would be trained to use music, poetry and art to help with academic subjects.

"I would definitely like to see [the arts] making a lot of these core subjects come alive, that students have more opportunity for active learning," Copeland said.

The initiative will target middle-school pupils first. "It's a time when they're very turned on to music and dance, so we thought we would capitalize on their native interest and build on it," she said.

Cyrus Driver, who oversees the foundation's educational grants, said he chose Baltimore because he was impressed by the ideas and enthusiasm of Copeland, Mayor Martin O'Malley and leaders in the city's arts community.

Driver said the grant is meant to be seed money, not a stream of revenue.

"The purpose of our support is to begin to enable school systems and communities to make the arts central and basic to public education," he said.

The foundation also has given arts education grants to school systems in Washington, Cleveland, St. Louis and Dallas.

Richard J. Deasy, director of the Washington-based Arts Education Partnership, said the funds are an important opportunity for Baltimore.

When children are exposed to "quality arts experiences," Deasy said, "their intellectual, personal and social development is significantly advanced."

"That's particularly true for kids who, for one reason or another, may be struggling with standard approaches to education," he said.

But Deasy cautioned that art must be used in a meaningful and sustained way to have an impact on academic performance.

"It's not like you can wheel a cart down the hallway and wave paintbrushes at kids for a half an hour each week," he said.

Copeland said she was gratified that the Ford Foundation chose Baltimore, despite its recent financial woes.

"I think the fact that Ford has come in is a good sign that people are seeing the same kind of hope we are," she said.

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