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Ear to the Ground

What Happens When You Replace School Guards With Art Teachers

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Posted on May 2, 2013
Ana Fukase (CC BY-ND 2.0)

A K-8 school in Massachusetts “plagued by violence and disorder” became a picture of promise when a new principal stopped treating the place like a prison.

Andrew Bott was the sixth principal in seven years at Orchard Gardens in Roxbury, Mass., a school intended to be an institution of the arts. When he showed up in 2010, backpacks were prohibited for fear students would use them to carry weapons. A dance studio, art rooms and theater were rarely occupied or used for storage.

“A lot of my colleagues really questioned the decision,” Bott said, describing his choice to lead the school. “A lot of people actually would say to me, ‘You realize that Orchard Gardens is a career killer? You know, you don’t want to go to Orchard Gardens.’ ”

But that didn’t deter him. As a result of his good sense and efforts, students’ grades have improved and many express confidence in their ability to do something that gives them joy and a sense of achievement.

Said eighth-grader Keyvaughn Little: “I’ve been more open, and I’ve expressed myself more than I would have before the arts have came.” Little was recently accepted into the competitive Boston Arts Academy, the city’s only public high school specializing in visual and performing arts.  

“There’s no one particular way of doing something,” he said. “And art helps you like see that. So if you take that with you, and bring it on, it will actually help you see that in academics or anything else, there’s not one specific way you have to do something.”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

NBC News:

[B]ow, three years later, the school is almost unrecognizable. Brightly colored paintings, essays of achievement, and motivational posters line the halls. The dance studio has been resurrected, along with the band room, and an artists’ studio.

The end result? Orchard Gardens has one of the fastest student improvement rates statewide. And the students — once described as loud and unruly, have found their focus.

“We have our occasional, typical adolescent ... problems,” Bott said.  “But nothing that is out of the normal for any school.”

The school is far from perfect. Test scores are better, but still below average in many areas. Bott says they’re “far from done, but definitely on the right path.”

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