Award-winning actress Alfre Woodard made her second visit to St. Helena Parish schools April 27 as part of her role on the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
Woodard’s first visit in October was part of the kick-off for the arts school’s programs in St. Helena Parish.
Woodard said she saw differences during her recent visit.
“They were more confident this visit in talking to an adult, and that’s huge across economic lines and across region lines, and I am very proud of these kids,” she said.
As part of the program, a number of artists and entertainers, including Woodard, were recruited by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama to take part in the expanded initiative and work directly with students at Louisiana schools, school officials said.
St. Helena Arts and Technology Academy, which teaches pre-K through sixth-grade students, was one of three Louisiana schools selected to take part in a nationwide program using art to turn around troubled schools.
Woodard adopted the St. Helena Parish school as an official turnaround artist as part of the president’s program to aid failing schools.
During Woodard’s recent visit, she attended a stakeholder’s meeting at St. Helena Arts and Technology Academy, where she was treated to a catered lunch.
Jacques Rodrigue, of the George Rodrigue Foundation of Arts in New Orleans; Irvin Mayfield, Grammy and Billboard award-winning Jazz trumpeter and founder and artistic director of The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra; and National Turnaround Arts Director Kathy Fletcher also made the visit with Woodard.
After lunch and a short presentation by Fletcher, Woodard worked with a select group of third-graders, and Irvin Mayfield worked with a group in Rebekah Bush’s kindergarten class at St. Helena Arts and Technology Academy.
“It’s heartwarming to see people excited about the things that surround them every day, and that is the power of the arts,” Mayfield said.
After visiting St. Helena Arts and Technology Academy, Woodard and the group proceeded to the St. Helena College and Career Academy auditorium, where they were welcomed by the St. Helena College and Career Academy marching band, dance team and cheerleaders.
After performing a cheer with the cheerleaders and marching with the band, Woodard gave one-on-one acting lessons to the students backstage before their performance.
After the lessons, Woodard took a front row seat to watch the fourth- through sixth-graders perform a skit from the play “Annie,” which will premiere at 7 p.m. May 20 in the auditorium at St. Helena College and Career Academy.
Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at the door.
Turnaround Arts is funded through a public-private partnership, receiving more than $5 million over the next three years from the U.S. Department of Education, the National Endowment of the Arts, the Ford Foundation and other private foundations and companies such as the George Rodrigue Foundation of Arts, to bring arts education into low-performing schools, a news release said.
The George Rodrigue Foundation of Arts was started in 2009 by Jacques’ famous artist father, George, who died in December 2014.
The foundation’s goal is to resurrect arts programs in schools that had become victims of budget cuts. A total of 35 schools nationwide were selected for the arts enrichment program.