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South Los Angeles is hardly known for its fine-tuned infrastructure or exemplary schools, but it's here that ICEF Public Schools, or Inner City Education Foundation schools, are shaping lives and altering realities, both for students and their families. Geared toward preparing South Los Angeles's kids to thrive at the top 100 colleges and universities in the country, ICEF, a group of public charter schools for kids from elementary through high school, uses visual and performing arts as powerfully transformative teaching tools.
Teaching Kids To Believe In Themselves
Founded in 1996 and available to all public school students in South Los Angeles, ICEF trades the ABCs for the AAAs: Academics, Athletics and the Arts. The foundation brings enhanced, non-basic learning opportunities to kids who never visualized themselves in a cap and gown, let alone the corner suite.
Dedicated to closing the achievement gap for African-American and Latino students of all ages, ICEF relies heavily on top-quality and highly trained educators, deep parental involvement and multifaceted extracurricular activities.
"College prep starts in kindergarten," says Jerod Fish, a seventh grade humanities teacher at ICEF's Frederick Douglass Academy Middle School. In addition to teaching humanities, Fish is directing the district-wide production of "Rhythm of Life," a musical which will feature 50 kids from 12 ICEF schools, representative of all grades.
"Visual and performing arts are embedded into our curriculum and made part of the learning experience," he says, using his class's study of "Julius Caesar" as an example. "Humanities are already a synthesis of history and English. We take it one step further by offering film class, choir, music and textiles. Kids get access to producing art and taking electives that they can then study as part of the humanities program, enriching the experience, making plays and books come alive. Our partnerships with local museums and theaters help make this possible."
Using Visual And Performing Arts As Teaching Tools
ICEF's visual and performing arts classes are geared toward supporting the acquisition of critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities and creative problem-solving at a 21st century level. Classes vary from grade to grade and include college prep art classes like podcasting, video journalism, youth orchestra and jazz band. Students focused on both performance and visual mediums get a chance to participate in "Rhythm of Life," both on the stage and behind the scenes.
The musical is part of the popular Art Week program, a week-long initiative celebrating visual and performing art in all its forms. Kids can participate in a myriad number of ways from scene design to stage management, enabling them to merge and forge multiple disciplines and skill sets. The production also highlights a student art auction which will include multiple art mediums from textiles to sculpture.
Community and family participation are integral to the popular, annual initiative. Past school productions have included "The Lion King," "The Wiz," "A Raisin in the Sun" and "Dream Girls."
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.
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