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September 1, 2014, 5:27 pm

Arts enhance academics at Grover Washington

Grover Washington Middle School’s Principal Terry Hargett believes that arts education is important. As an administrator with a cultural and performing arts background, she finds coming to the helm of a school named after the late legendary saxophonist is an ideal fit. Consequently, within the past year that Hargett has been at the school her colleagues, the teachers and even the students have bought into the vision that expressing one’s creative gifts enhances academic prowess.

Just ask 14-year old Natron Moore of Olney. The eighth-grader placed second in the school’s science fair earlier this year. He has already been accepted to be apart of the freshman class at Central High School this fall.

“Being at this school I was able to be recommended to participate in a summer program,” said Moore. “I was part of a team of students who did an educational project with Exxon Mobil. This is just a great school to learn in.”

Seventh-graders Patricia Cannon and Deon Lynch agreed. The 12-year-old Olney residents were quick to point out that being involved in the school’s extracurricular activities, especially arts, stimulates them academically.

“I have been involved in track and being a part of the step team,” said Cannon. “I got to perform at rhythms at the pep rally. The teachers here help you and they want to see you do well, so they help you to understand your work. Since I’ve been here my grades got better and I know want to go to CAPA when I graduate.”

“I love going to music, gym and science classes,” said Lynch, an aspiring astronaut. “By having different programs at the school it has helped me to focus (academically) more. This year I’ve learned about the planets and the geography of the Earth.”

When Romeo Cochran, the teacher resource liaison, pulled out the school’s calendar it revealed the many exciting events that students are engaged in this spring. The eighth-grade students are taking two trips. First, they will be going to Neshaminy Playground and then they will be taking a daylong trek to New York City on Friday, June 1.

The honor students will be recognized with a barbecue, after having attended an honors ski trip earlier this year.

During May, students will be participating in many school initiatives that will be a collaboration with local congregations in Northeast Philadelphia. There are productions throughout the month, including “Grover’s Got Talent.” This will be a special Spring Showcase that will be held May 23, and the students will participate in the Olney Choral Festival on May 24.

Spirit Week will take place from June 4 to 8. This will focus on athletics at the school. There will be field events and sports competitions in the school’s courtyard. It will culminate with a festive dance gala on Friday evening.

The school has its own Arts Zone, supported by PECO, which has adopted the school. When students performed in the “Annie Jr.” production they were able to show off not only their theatrical talents, but also the musical aptitude of the school’s orchestra, band and choir.

“This was a phenomenal show,” said Hargett. “I was amazed at how professional the kids were. I was really proud of them, and all who came were equally amazed.”

Hargett is quick to list the many attributes of students having a well-rounded education that includes music, art, and theater. “Arts education, first of all, teaches students how to focus which is a life skill,” she said.

“Two, it teaches them the importance of self-discipline and delayed gratification. Finally, it teaches them that perseverance pays off. This is what it takes to be successful academically and the performing arts teach all these to the students,” Hargett said.

Thus, many of the students who graduate from Grover Washington attend GAMP (Girard Academic Music Program) or CAPA (High School for the Creative and Performing Arts). Others go on to the top academic magnet high schools like Central, Carver High School of Engineering and Science, or Philadelphia High School for Girls.

Grover Washington also boasts of being a diverse school. Its lobby reflects this, as there is a “snowflake” mathematical model featuring globes. The display has traveled around to other schools and venues throughout the city.

The continents and countries represent the heritage of the school’s population. While 60 percent of the 735 students are from the African Diaspora — African Americans, Caribbean Americans and native Africans — about 20 percent are of Asian descent and another 20 percent are Latino, according to Hargett.

Yet another thing that is unique about Grover Washington is that many of the administrators and staff either have roots in, or still reside in, the Lower Northeast neighborhood. Hargett herself lives within walking distance of the school.

“I think living in the neighborhood gives me a special connection to the students,” said Hargett, admitting she often runs into students and their parents in the supermarket or gas station. “I see the kids all the time.

“They know that I understand the world they live in because I, too, am part of their community. Just as how this school integrates our special education and ESL children into the other classrooms, I think being part of the neighborhood makes the school environment more inclusive,” she said.

Over the next year the school will be involved in raising additional donations to bring the auditorium up to a professional level. Hargett, who was principal of Audenreid High School, which has a state-of-the-art stage, wants Grover Washington to have the same. Because it is the city’s only comprehensive middle school with a focus on the performing arts, she feels this is imperative.

“With the right sound and lights, it will bring out the best in the students,” Hargett said. “When I was in a building that had this it made a difference. You can see the talents of the children better and the children are more enthusiastic. I would like to also add a dance component, because these students are so talented and I want to give them more support.”