Grammy-nominated actress Alfre Woodard swayed and danced to the beat of the drums and wailing trumpets as she made her way to the entrance of St. Helena Arts and Technology Academy.
Once inside the school, students listened as Woodard and others talked about the power and importance of the arts.
The actress also led master classes with a select group of students.
Woodard’s Oct. 13 visit was part of The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities kick-off for its newest Turnaround Arts School in St. Helena Parish.
The St. Helena school, which teaches pre-kindergarten 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.
As part of the program, a number of artists and entertainers, including Woodard, were recruited by President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama to take part in the expanded initiative and work directly with students at the Louisiana Turnaround schools, school officials said.
First lady Michelle Obama said during an announcement last month the schools that the president’s committee chose for this effort were some of the most under-performing schools in the country, a news release from the program states.
Woodard made the six-hour trip from Los Angeles to St. Helena for the program.
Jacques Rodrigue, of the George Rodrigue Foundation of Arts in New Orleans, and National Turnaround Arts Director Kathy Fletcher also made the visit with Woodard.
Woodard and a delegation of others working with the turnaround program were welcomed by the St. Helena College and Career Academy marching band and cheerleaders.
Woodard, Rodrigue and Fletcher, while touring the school guided by Principal Donna Jackson, viewed student artwork displayed in the hallways and classrooms.
After the tour, they proceeded to the gym for an assembly where each spoke to the students about the arts program.
“We have felt so much energy and positivity since we arrived here, I cannot wait to tell the first lady. Mrs. Obama would love to meet you because you guys are just that kind of community,” Woodard said.
After the assembly, Woodard gave one-on-one acting lessons to the students who will be auditioning for a play at the academy in November.
She taught them how to use their voice when auditioning and how to make eye contact and use correct posture when speaking to the media.
“I encourage you to audition for that play and take acting classes if they are available to you. Acting class is not just to turn you into actors, but also about communication. Everybody needs to take acting at some point in their lives because this life is all about communication,” Woodard said.
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 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.
Rodrigue said the schools’ staff at St. Helena Arts and Technology Academy recently received special training and that the foundation will work during the school year to develop and expand arts programs.
The George Rodrigue Foundation of Arts was started in 2009 by Jacques’ famous artist father, George, who died in December.
“What my father really wanted for his home state of Louisiana was for students to have arts in their classrooms everyday in every subject,” Rodrigue said.