More than a decade ago, the former Eastern District High School was disbanded into three smaller schools collectively known as the Grand Street Campus high schools. But despite taking most classes separately, students at the 850 Grand Street building unite around a shared arts program that is the envy of many in the city.
Last Thursday, the school cluster showed off the program during the annual Spring Arts Celebration, an evening of music, dance, and poetry.
The event featured a special guest, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who donated $100,000 to the arts program as part of the 2009 federal budget.
Velazquez was greeted with a rendition of “New York, New York” by the senior wind ensemble, which has won numerous awards at the New York State School Music Association. After dancing in step with the beat, Velazquez stepped up to the microphone and recalled when she first heard the band at a 2007 holiday street lighting festival.
“I was so impressed with the ability of the kids that right there that night, I said, ‘I’m going to get them some money,’” she said.
“When our students are exposed to the arts and music, they do better. And that has been proven at Grand Street Campus.”
Around five years ago, the school embarked on an effort to improve its arts program after teachers and administrators noticed the correlation between artistic outlets and academic success. It was also believed that a unified arts program would help forge a bond between students of the three Grand Street Campus schools, located near Bushwick Avenue, which also shares common sports teams.
(The three schools are: The High School of Enterprise, Business, and Technology; The School for Legal Studies; and Progress High School for Professional Careers.)
Along with its award winning music program, Grand Street has a theater and technical arts program that teaches students both on−stage and back−stage components to theater. For the backstage part, the school partners with New York City College of Technology’s Brooklyn branch.
Additionally, the school has an audience participation program designed to teach students how to be patrons of the arts. It partners on the program with the Metropolitan Opera. For the past two years, the Met has run high−definition simulcasts of its operas in the school’s 1,000−seat auditorium. This Saturday, the season concludes with a showing of La Cenerentola, a version of Cinderella, at 12:30 p.m.
It’s all part of a plan to integrate the school with the artistic community that surrounds it, said Audience Development Coordinator Kenny McLaughlin.
“There are so many artists in this community, we want to build a bridge between people in this neighborhood and the school,” he said.
McLaughlin said the $100,000 given by Velazquez will help ensure that the arts program thrives into the future. He said money might be put toward the expansion of the school’s summer arts program, the duration of which is always “temperamental due to funding,” he said.