AVENAL — Avenal Elementary School Principal Blanca Price represented the Central Valley at the White House to promote art education.

“It was awesome,” Price said. “It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Price along with other principals and students from the U.S. were welcomed by First Lady Michelle Obama May 25 at the White House Turnaround Arts Talent Show.

The Turnaround Arts program is part of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities helping low-performing schools across the nation to integrate more arts education into the curriculum in an effort of increase student success and engagement.

In 2014, Avenal Elementary became one of now 16 schools in California that participates in the Turnaround Arts program. The program works with 68 schools nationwide.

“There’s some students who excel in areas like art,” Price said. “They may not necessarily be the best in reading and math, but something about art speaks to them. It gives everyone a chance to be successful.”

The talent show featured performances from students nationwide including a group from an elementary school in Los Angeles. Price said students sang, danced and read poetry.

Price said all principals from a Turnaround Arts school were invited to attend the talent show and had to pass a background check to attend the White House event.

At the White House, Price said everyone had to go through at least five different checkpoints to show identification and walk through metal detectors before actually going into the venue where the talent show was held.

Price said she sat behind the First Lady at the talent show but was not able to meet her officially. 

“I just never pictured myself going to the White House,” she said. “My parents emigrated here from Mexico in the 1970s. I am first generation born here. I never thought I would be invited to an event inside the White House.”

As part of Turnaround Arts, students do more art projects in their classes as well as participate in art events for the community like school musicals and an art gallery night where students get to showcase their art work for their families.

Each school is provided with a celebrity mentor who helps their designated school implement and run the program as well as work with students. Jesse Tyler Ferguson of “Modern Family” is the school’s artist.

Price said Ferguson has visited the campus and helped students prepare for the school's musical production last year of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

“[Ferguson] did send us a video when we had our art gallery night,” she said. “It was exciting.”

Since the program is still new for the school, Price said district officials currently do not have enough data to fully measure students’ academic performance with the arts now integrated into the curriculum.

“But we have seen a drop in our discipline issues and attendance has also improved,” she said.

Reef-Sunset Unified School District Superintendent David East said he fully supports Avenal Elementary as a Turnaround Arts school. East and former school principal Ken Horn attended the talent show at the White House in 2014.

“There’s so many things that you learn in arts that apply to life and everything else,” East said.

He said students who are engaged in art education learn how to be patient and persevere. Art needs to be an essential part of education for students especially for at-risk youth, East said.

“We all know that kids who get involved in the arts have better grades,” said Michelle Obama at the Turnaround Arts Talent Show. “They have fewer behavioral problems, they are more likely to graduate and they are more likely to go to college.”

This reporter can be reached at csandoval@hanfordsentinel.com or 583-2422. 

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