Cameron Diaz Source

White House program brings Cameron Diaz to Broward schools

Three struggling elementary schools in Broward County will be getting star treatment.

Three performers, including actress Cameron Diaz, will help bring arts education to Lake Forest Elementary in Pembroke Park, Mary M. Bethune Elementary in Hollywood and Walker Elementary in Fort Lauderdale next year.

It is part of a growing White House initiative to use the arts to fix failing schools, officials said Wednesday. Broward was the only Florida school district chosen.
bethune
The band at Bethune Elementary School performs during the school’s open house. (Robert Duyos, Sun Sentinel)

“All children deserve to have access to the arts, not only to discover their passion, but as a tool to engage them in the joy of learning,” Diaz said. “I look forward to working to inspire the students at Bethune Elementary … to discover and reach for their dreams.”

John Lloyd Young, an actor and singer known for his role in Broadway’s Jersey Boys, will work with Walker Elementary. Carla Dirlikov, an opera singer, will partner with Lake Forest. Both schools are F-rated. Bethune received a C last year.

The three-year partnership will bring art supplies to the schools, extensive training for teachers, and will incorporate art and music into core subjects like math and reading.

The celebrities will make multiple visits to the schools — teaching classes, meeting with parents and sending video messages to students when they are away. Each performer will work differently with each school, depending on the students’ needs.

Actress Sarah Jessica Parker works with schools in Portland, Ore., and Minneapolis, sending cupcakes, and video-conferencing with the kids. Actress Kerry Washington works with a school in Inglewood, Ca., where she attends student performances and works with students during class. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma frequently visits his Boston school, conducting workshops, classes and performing for students.

“Giving [students] this creative outlet through the arts, whether it’s in the classroom or in the music room, it’s going to get them to want to be part of a group and collaborate,” said Sharon Boyd, principal at Lake Forest. “I can see it helping because it’s going to really assist those students in wanting to be engaged in their learning.”

She said math classes could incorporate things like drumming, rhythms and beats. Boyd said she was looking forward to working with Dirlikov, whose mother is Mexican and father is Bulgarian, because many of her students are diverse and transient.

“Getting the students to see someone successful who has travelled the world … it can really help the students understand what it’s like to come from a place where you might not have a lot” and still succeed, she said.

The Turnaround Arts Initiative is already in effect at 49 schools in 14 states, with schools generally increasing their academic performance and student attendance. The program began in 2012 with eight underperforming schools.

Schools will receive $25,000 to purchase art supplies and musical instruments. Districts and local partners will also contribute resources to the schools.

“When children learn using creative skills, it’s often something that they remember, it’s something that really sticks with them,” said Jan Goodheart, vice president of external affairs at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.

The high-profile celebrities will also “bring a high level of energy” and raise excitement for the program.

Mary Schmidt Campbell, vice chairwoman of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, said participating schools were showing marked improvement.

“We designed programs that would demonstrate that if well-designed art programs were in the public schools, they could turn around those schools,” she said.

Singer Josh Groban has been working with a school in Chicago since last year. He said he benefited from arts programs at his high school and knows how influential exposure to the arts can be.

“So many of the programs I was lucky enough to have were being cut at a really drastic rate,” he told reporters Wednesday. “The students that needed them the most were getting them the least.”

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