As Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews finished speaking at an assembly recently hosted at Homer A. Plessy Community School, a voice called out from the crowd.
“When can we go on tour together?” yelled a young boy.
While the crowd laughed, Andrews, clearly delighted by the boy’s enthusiasm, gathered both the boy and his twin brother and the three went on tour — around the school.
This experience was a snapshot of the kind of personal attention Andrews, fellow musician Irvin Mayfield, and actress Alfre Woodard will provide to students at the school for the next two years. The pre-K through third grade school recently became the newest Turnaround Arts school in New Orleans.
“The Turnaround program was started three years ago by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities,” said Jacques Rodrigue, executive director of the George Rodrigue Foundation, which was chosen by PCAH as one of only six organizations in the country this year to be a local program partner for the initiative.
The goal of Turnaround is to use the arts to help reinvigorate low-performing schools while fostering greater student participation in the arts.
This year Louisiana was chosen as one of six states to participate.
In addition to Homer A. Plessy, two other Louisiana schools will participate — St. Helena Arts and Technology Academy in Greensburg and Homer Elementary School in Homer.
For two years, all three schools will receive periodic visits from Andrews, Mayfield and Woodard, an actress known most recently for her role in the Academy Award-winning film, “12 Years a Slave.”
During each visit the famed performers will share their talents with the children in some educational capacity.
“The idea is to help these schools get some positive attention and support from parents and the community,” Rodrigue said. “Their presence is bound to help inspire students and motivate faculty.”
All three schools also will receive donations of art supplies and professional development training on how to incorporate the arts into a wide range of subjects.
Joan Reilly, head of school for Homer A. Plessy Community School, said she is excited about the boost the program will bring.
“This school was imagined by neighborhood parents who wanted more of a choice in terms of their children’s education,” Reilly said of the arts integrated, project-based school that opened in 2013. “They wanted a school that looked at the whole child, not just academics and discipline.”
Following a bumpy first year for the school, which was plagued with leadership and financial problems (including a lack of funding for the pre-K program) Reilly said her job has been to get the school’s mission and vision back on track.
She began by securing Plessy as a Louisiana A+ school — a program of the Rodrigue Foundation that helps schools incorporate the arts into education. That partnership led to the school being chosen as a Turnaround school.
“Somewhere along the way arts got put on the back burner by our schools,” Reilly said. “The focus has instead become math and science, but the research clearly shows that when you incorporate the arts into learning kids retain things better.”
Reilly said that she and two faculty members have already benefitted from a weekend of professional development training and she is anxious to receive supplies from Crayola.
“Working with Louisiana A+ Schools and the Turnaround program is paving the way for us to move forward with gusto — to be the school we envisioned,” she said. “All eyes are on this city and our charter school movement right now and I have to say, I think we are going to be the next big thing.”