On Tuesday, the district became the10th in the nation to be chosen by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to participate in the Any Given Child program, an initiative to increase access to the arts in K-8 schools.
Storey Elementary School sixth grader Anyssa Trimmer didn't consider herself to be a musician until she was encouraged by her band teacher to explore her creative capabilities by picking up an instrument.
"I played the trumpet last year and sang in the choir," she said. "This year, I'm the lead trumpet."
Soon, other Fresno Unified students will get the opportunity to tap into their talents as well. That's because Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, County Superintendent Larry Powell and School Superintendent Michael Hanson have teamed up with the Kennedy Center to expand arts education to all elementary and middle school students in the district.
"We're extremely grateful to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for selecting Fresno for this important program," Mayor Ashley Swearengin said. "Fresno is blessed with a vibrant arts community, one that understands how art improves the quality of life in a community and also recognizes and supports arts education for our students. The Any Given Child program will help us take our arts efforts to the next level. We expect the program to provide benefits not just for our students, but for our entire community as well."
The initiative brings together the city and the schools with more than 250 community arts organizations to enhance the resources already available in the district.
"There's a lot already going on here in music and visual arts, but also we need to make sure there's dance and theater available to students," said Kennedy Center Vice President of Education Darrel Ayers. "The other new area we're focusing on is media arts."
The first phase of the program will consist of a comprehensive audit of existing arts education resources and needs assessed by Kennedy Center staff and consultants. A review of the community and the school system will reveal what arts education resources currently exist, and what arts organizations and other community groups offer. Based on this information, a plan will be created in the next six to nine months.
During phase two of the program, a community committee will make recommendations to the school district and local arts groups on how best to implement the new long-range plan.
"It's a big deal for Fresno to be one of the first ten," said Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson. "I saw kids in classes this morning at some of our secondary schools and they said, they wouldn't be here if they didn't have this opportunity, they wouldn't be coming to school without this strings class and so those are pretty important things for not just what students learn, but how it connects them to their campuses."
A connection and new understanding, student Anyssa Trimmer said, helped improve her studies by expanding her artistic mind.
"It helped me in math, helped my brain work better I guess."
Fresno Unified will join another California school district in participating in the program. In 2009, the Kennedy Center chose Sacramento to take part. Nine other cities followed, and many have seen improvements during the implementation phase. Sacramento added artist residencies in select schools and provided arts experiences for all students K-8 in the two participating school districts.
In the first year of implementation in Portland, Oregon, 11,300 students in 23 schools had at least one arts-related experience.
During the first year of the program's work in Southern Nevada, every student at the 14 elementary schools participating in Any Given Child received weekly, sequential instruction in visual art and music throughout the school year. Over 5,000 students in Southern Nevada in grades 5-8 attended live theatrical, dance, and musical performances.
The Kennedy Center is accepting applications for new sites to join Any Given Child between January 1 and March 31 of each year for a program start in the fall of the same year.