Last spring, HISD, Young Audiences of Houston, the City of Houston, and more than 30 community arts organizations announced a new partnership — the Arts Access Initiative (AAI) — that has been providing additional arts-education programming to 10 elementary schools and one middle school. In late March, the AAI will announce 14 new HISD schools selected from around 40 applicants that will join the existing AAI cohort in 2016–2017.
The first district schools to benefit from AAI are: Atherton, Benbrook, Eliot, Hartsfield, Hines-Caldwell, Kashmere Gardens, Memorial, Mitchell, Scarborough, and Whittier elementary schools, as well as Hamilton Middle School.
Projects include field trips to Da Camera’s “Sam Dinkins and the Afro-American Experience” and Express Children’s Theatre’s “My BFF, The Dragon” for students at Mitchell ES; a lesson on portrait-making for students at Kashmere Gardens ES delivered by representatives from FotoFest’s Literacy Through Photography; and the development of a ballet folklórico program at Scarborough ES through MECA (Multicultural Education through the Arts). MECA also facilitated an after-school band program at Benbrook ES and is working with Eliot ES on its own ballet folklórico.
“This partnership is going to allow us to take the arts out of those siloed fine-arts classrooms and onto campuses that don’t have access to any fine-arts programs,” said Innovative Curriculum Officer Adam Stephens. “We want to ensure that it’s integrated throughout the school day and across all subject areas.”
The AAI team, which includes Director Deborah Lugo and HISD’s Arts Access Coordinator Douglas Torres-Edwards, works with each school’s principal to create a fine-arts plan specifically for that school. Funding comes from a variety of sources, including the Houston Endowment. The Kennedy Center program “Ensuring the Arts for Any Given Child” supports AAI and similar organizations across the country to develop and implement a plan for expanded arts education in schools, ensuring access and equity for all students in grades K–8.
“Students need creative outlets,” said Elementary Chief School Officer Sam Sarabia. “The reading, writing, math, and science are critical, but the arts are other forms of expression, which is equally, if not more, important.”
“We are all in this together, so we need to work together,” added Torres-Edwards. “We are looking for incentives to encourage the schools to add more fine arts. We are developing a Creative School Designation which will reward schools for their efforts to offer more fine-arts programs and creative instruction.”
HISD alumnus and Kennedy Center Art Director of Jazz Jason Moran has been working with five HISD schools for a while now. “In the future, when everyone … can dig deeper into the arts, the world will be a better place,” he said. “I’m a believer in it.”