MPS students mentored by singer Valerie June thanks to Turnaround Arts program

Posted at 9:31 PM, Feb 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-21 23:16:12-05

A program that brings more art and music to four high-need Milwaukee Public Schools locations is getting results.

It's called Turnaround Arts. It brings innovative arts, dance, theater and music programs to schools that are lacking in those disciplines. It also gives the school a high-profile artist mentor.

Valerie June, a singer headlining shows around the world right now, is the artist mentor at Lancaster Elementary School. She considers it her most important gig. She visits the school in-between touring, and works on projects with the kids.

"It's just reminding them constantly that they can shine, they can grow, they can succeed and be everything they want to be," she describes. "It will happen in due time, with effort and hard work. The key is believing in themselves."

On Tuesday, June invited students from Lancaster to Turner Hall, where she's performing a concert. It's only her second time meeting with the kids, but already she's had a big impact on the students.

"She's taught me to just be myself, and be more confident," says Teila Black.

"To strive for my dreams, and try to do the best at everything I do," says Daishonna Benson.

"To just strive for your dream," says Jakiyyah Johnikin. "Listen to your mind, and listen to your soul."

Lancaster has been one of the lowest-performing schools in the district. The vast majority of students are low-income, and they had very few resources for specials like art and music. Thanks to Turnaround Arts, the kids not only get Valerie as a mentor, they get new teachers who lead music and art classes every day.

"I express myself when I draw and play music," says Luis Casas. "It helps me at school to stay calm."

"I really love drawing, and I think that's helped me with math, you know, drawing shapes and geometry," adds Nathaniel Davis.

"A lot of the kids here have a lot of talent," says Mulik Henning. "This should be looked at as a good school with good teachers."

Teachers have noticed a difference.

"There were kids that just came out of their shells with these classes, and really just stood out," says art teacher Laura Oliver.

"The amount of joy just exponentially exploded," adds music teacher Julio Pabon. "They can express themselves creatively, and that critical thinking can cross into other parts of the curriculum."

"Kids who really struggled in reading are now reading fluently ," says 8th grade reading teacher, Pamela Robertson. "I think writing and putting their words to music has helped with that. I have seen the changes in the kids. It's like they have something to look forward to at school now. It helps break-up their day."

Next, Valerie June and the kids will be working on writing and performing a song together.

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