A letter

8 10 2009

The Gotta E.a.T. Project is still here and we’re still pressing on. We feel like we’re under fire as there is a crisis going on in our city which has found its way into our classroom. Until we contribute to the solution we are still a part of the problem. Thus we are pressing on. We have a lot of outstanding efforts planned. We will contribute to the arts and education inside and outside the classroom. We can’t expect “them” to solve the problems for us. They only brought the chosen few into the discussion. We gotta do better for our people.

“It’s important to me that we give our students a reason to be excited to come to school everyday. The only way that happens is if children have the exposure to a broad range of activities, and music is a huge, huge piece of that. What worries me the most is that children who often need the most access often have the least.
–Arnie Duncan, US Education Secretary

“The arts must be at the heart of every child’s learning experience if…
they are to have a chance to dream and to create, to have beliefs, to carry a sense of cultural identity.”

–James D Wolfensohn, former chairman of The Kennedy Center

Yours in the struggle


My mission

I think about it all day every day


It ain’t at all sunny in Philadelphia

28 09 2009

braindrainWhat’s going on in Philadelphia?

It was about two weeks ago when the country found out that Philadelphia’s state senate voted to close the cities free libraries ( as so eloquently described in the Huffington Post here).

But today we have learned that they will also pose a 6% tax increase on the arts. How can you tax the arts you ask? I asked the same thing.  As reported by Peter Jackson of the Associated Press, (find the complete article here.) the state plans to hike up the price of admissions museums, historical sites, performing arts events, zoos and parks. That is how.

It seems to me that the state’s elected officials are trying to ensure that their constituents remain in the dark, become mindless drones who work everyday to pay taxes to line their pockets to ensure they stay in the office.

Here’s my math:

 No books = no new ideas. No arts = no self-expression. No after school programs = let the kids make play out of each other (as we have seen in Chicago.).  No access to the internet for low-income household = no means to look for a better paying job, learn about the world around them, hell download coupons for free chicken. No GED or ESL programs =  no future. Taxing the arts admissions prices is practically ensuring the non-profit organizations supporting the arts will shut their doors. They do not have profit in which to operate from when their patronage drop. They operate based on tickets sold at the door, based on healthy subscribers and benefactors. Philadelphia’s government is going to make a practically impossible task (trust me, the Gotta E.A.T. Project knows from experience) plain impossible.

All of this = brain drain and places Philadelphia and Pittsburgh right beside Detroit.

Btw, this is by no means a diss to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, that’s a separate blog post. 😉 VB

Is there a pot o’ gold at the end of the Reading Rainbow?

28 08 2009

Yes! It’s called literacy, love for books, bibliomania, uber imagination, increased vocabulary and other goodness you won’t pick up from the average afternoon show. Reading Rainbow was my first book club. I remember watching an episode and forcing my mom to remember the titles so that we could pick it up either at the bookstore or on our library runs.

But like all good things, Reading Rainbow, on air for the past 26 years (all of my life), the third longest running children’s show, the show with the first theme song I learned, is coming to an end.

Read or listen to more here on NPR.

In honor of Levar Burton and Reading Rainbow goodness, watch Jam Master Jay spit.

The Educated Rapper

26 08 2009

Rapper, mother and now Dr. Roxanne Shante recently completed her PhD from Cornell.

“This is a story that needs to be told,” Shante said. “I’m an example that you can be a teenage mom, come from the projects, and be raised by a single parent, and you can still come out of it a doctor.”

My favorite Roxanne Shante line: “You think you are God, but you do eat lard.” VB

Chicago Gets Its First Public High School for Performing Arts!!

5 07 2009

*As seen in Performink Online *

music_and_performing_artsBy Kerry Reid

Chicago, without question, is in the top echelon of American cities when it comes to the strength of the professional arts. But it’s also the last major city in the U.S. without a public high school dedicated to arts training. (The Chicago Academy for the Arts, which opened in 1981 at the intersection of Chicago and Milwaukee Avenues, is a private independent institution.)

I didn’t know The Chicago Academy for the Arts is private…

But that’s about to change. Beginning this September, when the Chicago High School for the Arts opens on the south side, CPS students with a commitment to both academics and professional arts training will have an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new kind of school. Under the leadership of executive and artistic director Jose Ochoa, CHSA, or “ChiArts” as it is already known colloquially, will offer concentrations in music, theatre, dance, and visual arts, along with a full complement of accredited academic classwork. Initially the school will be housed in the Pershing West Middle School at 32nd St. and Calumet Avenue. The first year’s class will hold 150 students, admitted through an audition process, with another 150 added each year. (In other words, the first year that there will be four classes, freshmen to seniors, on board will be the 2012-13 school year.)

The impetus for the school, notes Ochoa, grew out of a working group under the umbrella of the Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust, composed of representatives from 10 different music organizations in Chicago, including the Chicago Symphony, the Sherwood Conservatory, Merit School of Music, and the Lyric Opera. The organizations came together to discuss the lack of diversity in Chicago music ensembles.

Says Ochoa, “What they came up with is that there was a gap of music education [in the public schools]. They are not doing a great job of creating the next generation of Chicago artists. The working group then identified some of the civic leaders who could take [the group’s proposals] to the next step.”

The working group’s aim to open a public high school specifically geared toward professional arts education and training dovetailed nicely with the Chicago Public Schools’ “Renaissance 2010” program, an initiative dedicated to opening 100 new schools—charter and professional development schools in particular—by 2010.

“We are a contract, not a charter school,” explains Ochoa. “We have more autonomy than traditional CPS schools. We can have auditions, and our funding is different.”

The next step will be to create elementary schools that will prepare students for such a curriculum. It is well documented that children who learn music have an easier time grasping new ideas and retaining information as they grow older.

Ochoa, who comes to Chicago after serving as the superintendent of cultural arts for the Metro Parks and Recreation Department in Nashville, Tennessee, also has logged time as an arts teacher for at-risk students in Amarillo, Texas, and holds an undergraduate degree in music performance from the North Carolina School for the Arts and a master’s in interdisciplinary studies from West Texas A&M University. He identifies three key components to the ChiArts mission: college prep, so that students at ChiArts can compete academically when they apply to programs such as Yale School of Drama; pre-professional arts training, including work with local working artists; and, of course, diversity.

In that last area, ChiArts is off to a good start. Says Ochoa, “The Chicago public schools have over 410,000 students, and 90 percent of them are minorities,” whereas many private institutions tend to have much lower minority representation. The incoming class of 2013 at ChiArts breaks down, according to Ochoa, roughly as 33 percent African American, 28 percent Hispanic, 23 percent white, and the rest some combination of bi-racial, multiracial, Asian, and Native American. “Our students are also diverse socioeconomically and artistically,” says Ochoa. And the school will offer courses for English language learners (ELL).

One big advantage? It’s affordable. No one, especially Ochoa, denies that the Chicago Academy for the Arts has a great program. In fact, the school was named a “national school of distinction” by the Kennedy Center in 2006. But though Pamela Jordan, Head of School for the Chicago Academy, notes that 48 percent of the student body (and 75 percent of students of color) receive scholarships, the tuition runs about $17,000 a year—far out of reach for many families. And with only 160 students admitted per year, with, according to Jordan, 45 percent of them from outside Chicago proper, the Chicago Academy can’t possibly provide opportunities for all the inner-city students who are serious about arts training. Jordan, who was on the advisory committee for ChiArts, says, “There are so many ways of delivering this education. It’s not one size fits all.”

The Chicago High School for the Arts and Chicago Academy are similar in how the school day is structured. Both feature academic classwork in the morning, arts classes in the afternoon, and studio/rehearsal time after school. The school day at ChiArts will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Upon graduation, says Ochoa, students will have earned 44 credits, as opposed to the 28 credits most CPS students earn. All academic courses must be taught by fully accredited secondary education teachers, though the arts training that doesn’t count toward transcript credits can be provided by working artist/educators.

Right now, ChiArts also has about 60 partners in the professional arts community, ranging from behemoths like the Art Institute, Steppenwolf, and Goodman to the Little Black Pearl Art and Design Center on the South Side. In addition to providing advice about curriculum, the partners help connect the school with potential students. Ochoa notes that over 600 students applied for the first class, which demonstrates the strong interest and need for the program. Down the road, the school also plans to use the partners to help craft internships and apprentice programs for seniors and graduates.

Jordan, who has been at the Chicago Academy for 18 years (seven in her current role), doesn’t see the two schools as competitive with one another in any way. In fact, she believes that the coursework at both institutions will prove to be a model for all kinds of schools down the road, not just those who are training future artists.

“I think that, more and more, educators as well as others look at arts education as a part of 21st century skills. Clearly, there is mounting research that supports this. Years ago, we couldn’t say that. Now there are the longitudinal studies about what this training leads to, whether or not the students remain in the arts.”

Ochoa agrees.

“We need ChiArts and the Chicago Academy to be three times as large. We also need Curie, and Kenwood Academy, and Lincoln Park High School. Woonsocket, Rhode Island, has had a public performing arts high school, but not Chicago.”

As for the old images of performing arts schools fostered by the movie and television show “Fame,” Ochoa laughs that “Our students will not be dancing on taxi cabs and cafeteria tables.” What they will be doing, he hopes, is gaining a first-class education and training in the arts that will help create more diversity and continuing experimentation in the city’s professional arts organizations. Says Ochoa, “It’s a very exciting time to be in Chicago with this project.”

For information on the Chicago High School for the Arts, visit www.chiarts.org. For information on the Chicago Academy for the Arts, visit www.chicagoacademyforthearts.org.

My ideas are in orange. VB

Student Loan Repayments Based On Income

3 07 2009

student-loan1 Hurray! Starting on Wednesday, July 8, 2009 the Education Department will offer a loan      repayment plan that is based on income. I guess I can open my Direct Loan mail now.

Shouts to the Chicago Public School’s former CEO Arne Duncan for stepping up to the plate: “We know today’s borrowers are concerned about their ability to repay student loans in the current economic environment,” Arne Duncan, the education secretary, said in a statement. “This new plan addresses the issue head-on by giving them the option of a reduced monthly payment tied to their annual income.

According to the article,  New Plan Ties Reduced College Loan Payments to Income by Jonathan D. Glater, “Also on Wednesday, the interest rate on new federal Stafford loans, the most widely used federally guaranteed student loan, will drop to 5.6 percent, from 6 percent. By 2012, the rate will fall to 3.4 percent, under a schedule mandated by Congress. ”

While the reduced rates only apply to new loans, those who consolidated their loans in the past are eligible for the new repayment plan.

If you would like to calculate your payment plan, visit the Education Department’s website, Student Aid on the Web.

Read more at the NY Times.

National Design Awards :: July 24

27 06 2009

*According to Cooper-Hewitt Press Release*

First Lady Michelle Obama Celebrates the National Design Awards with Public Programs and White House Ceremony The Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum today announced First Lady Michelle Obama will celebrate the 10th annual National Design Awards Friday, July 24, with education programs in Washington, D.C., followed by a White House ceremony for the winners and finalists of the 2009 awards. Mrs. Obama will serve as honorary patron for the awards program.

Launched at the White House in 2000 as an official project of the White House Millennium Council, the annual National Design Awards celebrate design in various disciplines as a vital humanistic tool in shaping the world. The awards are accompanied each year by a variety of public education programs, including special events, panel discussions and workshops.

2008 product design runnerup

Several of the National Design Award winners will be part of a series of free concurrent public programs starting at 9:30 a.m. July 24. Envisioned as a series of dialogues about the current state of design, winners will be paired for hour-long conversations. Members of the public can learn more about attending the programs by visiting http://www.nationaldesignawards.org.

“Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum is honored to receive the patronage of First Lady Michelle Obama for its National Design Awards program,” said Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. “The National Design Awards recognize and promote design excellence, innovation and public impact, and the support of Mrs. Obama will immeasurably increase national awareness of design’s important role.”