Michelle Obama Hosts PCAH Youth Programs Awards Event

Dorothy Rowley | 11/28/2012, 11:09 a.m.

D.C.'s Savoy Elementary Noted for Its 'Turnaround Arts Initiative'

First lady Michelle Obama told a group of youth mentors, educators, students and their families during a recent White House event that they've seen first-hand, the "transformative power" of the arts and arts education.

Mrs. Obama made the remarks while hosting the 2012 National Arts and Humanities Youth Programs Awards ceremony in the East Room on Monday, Nov. 19.

"That's why it is so critical that we preserve arts education in our schools," said Mrs. Obama. "It is absolutely critical because we know how important it is for our children's development. It helps shape their character in so many ways . . . Because of the program [our] young people are learning break dancing, hip hop, African drumming, putting on plays, publishing poems and articles and working on museum exhibits, becoming historians, and champion debaters."

The event, which honored 12 community-based after-school projects from across the country that cater to underprivileged youth, serves as the umbrella organization for students enrolled in the nationwide "Turnaround Arts Initiative." Students who participate in Turnaround at their individual schools, learn to be "persistent, tenacious and bold," said Mrs. Obama, who added that among them, there has been a marked increase in grade point averages, and that almost all of them are poised to attend college. Overall, the Turnaround initiative focuses on inspiring creative development for at-risk students through the use of music, dance, poetry, debate, theater and other artistic outlets.

The event also featured remarks by members of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities (PCAH), that partners with the National Endowment for the Arts - of which Mrs. Obama is the honorary chairperson. There was also a performance by the Marachi Master Apprentice Program of San Fernando, Calif., which has recorded a CD, and a reception.

Savoy Elementary School in Southeast, is one of eight low-performing schools from across the country selected to participate in Turnaround. Although Savoy was not listed among the 12 honoree school programs, PCAH co-chair George Stevens acknowledged during the 40-minute ceremony, that he and an entourage visited the Anacostia community school earlier that day and were impressed.

"It was so thrilling and so alive. The walls are filled with creativity," Stevens said. "Just to see the engagement of these children and the principal, contributes so much to the arts programs that bring them alive."

Savoy principal Patrick Pope, said that although his school wasn't honored this year, it was still an achievement to be part of the White House program.

"We weren't among the schools to receive PCAH recognition, but to be invited was a wonderful experience," Pope said.

Mrs. Obama also hailed the mentors and educators who work tirelessly to keep arts and humanities curriculums alive and well in the nation's public schools.

"You make all this happen on shoestring budgets; you do it in unbelievable ways, in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable," she said."