Schools of the arts occupy a unique position among publicly funded educational institutions in the United States. The first of these types of schools to put the arts in the front and center of the curriculum was the LaGuardia Arts School in New York City, which was originally founded in 1936 as the High School of Music and Art. According to their Web site, the school was “created to provide training in performance skills to students who wished to prepare for professional careers in dance, music or drama,” while also receiving a full complement of high school academics. This particular institution was made famous in the hit television series of the 1970s, “Fame,” and helped spawn similar arts-oriented schools in cities across the country. The alumni list from LaGuardia reads like a virtual “who’s who” of the arts world and includes such luminaries as conductors Gerard Schwartz and Leon Botstein, violinist Pinchas Zukerman, operatic singer Reri Grist, actors Ben Vereen, Al Pacino, and Jennifer Aniston, jazz musicians Eddie Daniels, Omar Hakim, and Marcus Miller, and hundreds of other famous musicians, artists, actors, dancers, and composers.
Beyond the fame and fortune that some outstanding students have gained from performing arts schools, there have been studies that validate the benefit to inner city and disadvantaged youths for improving their academic achievement. According to an article in the WashingtonPost.com Web site, “A study of 23 arts-integrated schools in Chicago showed test scores rising up to two times faster there than in demographically comparable schools. A study of a Minneapolis program showed that arts integration has substantial effects for all students, but appears to have its greatest impact on disadvantaged learners.” Additionally, the book, Putting the Arts in the Picture: Reframing Education in the 21st Century, by Robin C. Redmond and Nick Rabkin supports this notion by providing a detailed report on how integrating the arts into the school curriculum can help low-income and disadvantaged students increase their academic achievement. Although this book has been around for a few years, it is still very relevant and worth a second look.
Our cover story this month features an in-depth look into one of these unique schools via a close-up interview with Raymond Roberts of the Milwaukee High School of the Arts. His program has performed at numerous prestigious festivals and events, and he has won numerous awards from a variety of organizations. Roberts provides sound and practical advice that can be used in any school music setting, as well as sharing specifically how he has reached out to the community in greater Milwaukee.