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Preschools to receive arts education boost under federal program

Fourth graders Jennifer Moncada, left, and Josephine Moreno hug after Moreno is chosen to try out for performing at the school district offices. The students take a music class once a week at Martin Luther King Elementary School in Compton.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Fourth-graders Jennifer Moncada, left, and Josephine Moreno are students at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Compton — a Turnaround Arts school. The federally backed program will expand arts education resources to pre-K and early education in the fall.

An expansion of a federal arts education program announced Wednesday will pump additional resources into some of California's struggling schools with a focus on teaching the arts to the state's youngest students. 

A two-year, $500,ooo grant from the U.S. Department of Education, as well as support from outside partners, expands a program known as Turnaround Arts that has helped struggling schools around the country, including in Los Angeles County.

The expansion will mean art supplies and musical instruments for Turnaround Arts students countrywide as well as professional development training for early education teachers. 

Rachel Goslins, executive director of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities that leads Turnaround Arts, said the expansion seeks to help students early in their education, including those in preschools.

“Research shows that having the arts at a very early age helps with visual-spatial skills, helps develop fine motor skills, really helps early literacy, and also it’s fun,” she said.

Compton’s Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary and Warren Lane Elementary in Inglewood are two of the schools that will receive new arts ed resources for their transitional kindergartners.

“What we're trying to do is develop in-house capacity [to teach the arts],” Goslins said. “This program is much more of a technical assistance program than a grant program.”

Regional coaches focused on younger students will also be available through Turnaround Arts to help schools with their arts education programs.

RELATED: Low-performing Inglewood, Compton schools try arts-based revamp

There are 10 Turnaround Arts schools in California. The program operates in the lowest-performing schools in the country, targeting high-poverty schools that fall in the bottom 5 percent academically. 

“Many of these schools have been failing for decades,” Goslins said. “We specifically focus on the highest-needs, lowest-performing schools in this program because we see that as where the arts have the biggest impact and where they're the least present.”

Turnaround Arts, which launched in 2012, has seen strong results so far. A report on the program found student attendance rates increased, disciplinary referrals dropped dramatically, and measures like math and reading scores improved, Goslins said. 

On Friday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson will visit with Turnaround Arts students from Humboldt County who are touring the Gehry Partners studio near Marina Del Rey. Architect Frank Gehry adopted their school, Hoopa Valley Elementary, as part of his support for Turnaround Arts.