School District honored with Kennedy Center arts program


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An array of colorful children’s artwork lined several walls of the Educational Services Center Tuesday afternoon as it was announced that Iowa City has been among just a handful of communities now taking part of a national arts-education initiative.

Any Given Child, under the Washington, D.C.-based John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, aims to strengthen arts education for students and promote creativity and development.

“The program’s goal is to increase access to and equity in arts education for all students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade,” Barbara Shepherd, Kennedy Center Director of National Partnerships, said at a press conference held Tuesday at the Educational Services Center — headquarters of the Iowa City School District. “The program also really strives for long-term outcomes, not just for students, for also for the cultural life of the community.”

Iowa City’s community involvement is what drew Kennedy Center officials to Iowa’s fifth-largest city.

To be selected, a local team of School District administrators, arts organizations, artists, and community leaders met during the last school year, and with the Kennedy Center’s guidance, completed an audit of arts activities and resources in the School District, and noted how these resources could be improved and distributed better.

The team then developed a long-range plan for Iowa City to create a more balanced and equitable arts education for children in the district, and presented this plan to be considered for the Any Given Child program.

The program seeks to identify areas in the district arts programs where students don’t have access to resources, and works to provide those missing resources.

District officials hope to see the first effects of the program as early as January.

“We want to find out where the gaps are, which students, which grades, which schools don’t have access to music, dance, theater, visual arts, and digital arts,” Shepherd said. “Once we find those gaps, then we can figure out how to plug them.”

Iowa City is the eighth city to have the opportunity to institute the Any Given Child program, which started in 2009. Larger cities such as Las Vegas and Portland are among past honored communities, which to date number 14.

“I’m very excited about that fact that little Iowa City is a site just like Portland, just like Sacramento, just like Austin, and others, and it shows to me how mighty Iowa City is,” Hancher Executive Director Chuck Swanson said.

Hancher has been working with the district since 2002 on a similar program called Partners in Education, which also worked to strengthen the arts, but Swanson said when they heard about the Any Given Child initiative, they thought it sounded like a much better fit for the district.

At the conference, Superintendent Steve Murley noted that educators across the country are facing the effect of No Child Left Behind, which puts a focus on reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.

“[No Child Left Behind] has really narrowed the curriculum, and with that, the arts tend to get squeezed out,” Murley said. “However, we as a school district really believe that the arts, from fine arts to music, are really a part of a well-rounded, comprehensive curriculum, so we’ve worked very hard to preserve that in our district, and make sure that those opportunities are available for kids.”

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