Best Arts Organization


"Think about your future!" the woman demanded, her sense of purpose giving her a powerful presence despite her petite frame. "You students who are here on scholarships — you are putting that all at risk." The year was 2009, but fourth-grade teacher Sue Ellen Turner was taking her students back to 1960. The place was a public school in St. Louis, but Turner was evoking Fisk University in Nashville, a historically black college integral to the nonviolent resistance of the civil-rights movement. Turner portrayed Fisk's academic dean, pleading with students to focus on their education rather than risk arrest and expulsion. Her Interchange partner, Metro Theater Company's Emily Petkewich, brought to life the white civil-rights organizer who encouraged Fisk students to participate in lunch-counter protests. Throughout the four-month program, the fourth graders went beyond textbooks and reports. They lived the exciting, tense, challenging, world-changing days of 1960s America. This is how Interchange works: The organization, a COCA program that partners public schools with more than 30 arts groups, uses the arts-integration model to teach students key skills and concepts. Through drama, dance, creative writing and visual art, Interchange partnerships bring immediacy and insight to a variety of subjects. The organization utilizes a concept well known to good teachers: the notion that not all children learn in the same way and that the arts can and do unlock academic potential. Tellingly, during the four-month program in Ms. Turner's classroom, not one student missed a single day of school. Think about your future, St. Louis.

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