Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The "J-Factor"

I had so many amazing conversations and experiences today - it is hard to know where to start! This morning began with an invigorating conversation with Melanie Talia, CEO of the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation. Our conversation covered a lot of ground, and I was buzzing with energy when I left. I seemed to end many of my conversations today that way- with more energy leaving than I came in with. That is how you know it was a good day. Melanie shared her story of having grown up with music, and the sense of discipline and healthy therapeutic outlet it gave her. She also shared some of her experiences and perspective garnered from spending 17 years as an Assistant District Attorney in Orleans Parish, prosecuting capital cases and other violent crimes. I learned a lot about the 'need' in New Orleans in regards to the world of crime and law enforcement. We discussed the necessity of a balance of reactive/restorative and proactive/preventative methods to address crime and violence in the city. Her work on the foundation's summer program, COPS for Kids, shows her understanding of the need for structured, nurturing, positive time when children are not in school. I felt like I left the meeting with an ally in regards to the potential impact Sistema inspired programs could have on the youth in New Orleans- she truly seemed to get it.

After sitting down for coffee with a member of the LPO, I met in the afternoon with New Orleans Outreach. New Orleans Outreach is an organization which listens closely to the unique needs of individual schools in regards to extracurricular programing. After need has been communicated, NO Outreach works hard to connect the school to volunteers and community resources in order to address that need. Besides their fantastic programming, I discovered one of the primary reasons schools have sought out NO Outreach is because they can provide what is known as the "J-Factor," more commonly known as joy. Does that emphasis on joy sound familiar? They also assess the affect these extracurricular programs are having on the participants life at school. One principal credited New Orleans Outreach's work for the 90% retention rate of his freshman class- a big deal for a city where the high school market is highly competitive. There was also a school that noted half as many absences after the programs started. amazing. The potential there is significant- I hope I get a chance to work with this organization in the future. 

I then sat down with the largest provider of arts for children in the state of Louisiana- Young Audiences. Their offerings and programs are diverse and intensive, spanning visual arts to sustainable gardening. There is a lot of resonance with their work and the world of Sistema- the belief that the arts delivers positive impact well beyond purely the practice of art, equity and access as priorities, the idea of whole-family involvement as exemplified by their 'Parents Learning, Too!' program, and their foundation in the essential nature of continuity. This idea of continuity is so significant in New Orleans because, even 6 years after Katrina, much has yet to find a firm footing. For instance, in one of the schools that YA works with, there were 4 principals in 3 years- but the YA programs were constant. YA has been doing work in arts education programming within and around schools for over 50 years- they know the specific vocabulary that is needed when speaking to educational institutions. There is a lot to learn from the legacy that they've created, and a lot of potential for future possibility. Young Audiences nationally is a network of programs across the U.S. in over 7,000 schools and and community centers. Imagine if El Sistema became a part of YA's repertoire of amazing programatic offerings, potentially bringing the option of intensive musical ensemble experiences to the more than 5,000,000 children YA works with each year. Very exciting. 

In the evening I visited The Roots of Music and am so moved by the work happening there, that the program will get its own post at a later date. If Venezuela had a marching band, this is what it would look like- a Sistema marching band! And it's great.

I finished my long day sitting down with a bass student from Loyola who works with the Sistema inspired Youth Orchestra of the Lower 9th Ward. When it was time to say goodnight, I challenged him to identify at least 10 ways which an El Sistema experience could affect how an individual develops, communicates, and interacts with and within the world around them. I am excited to hear his thoughts. I'm also excited to hear yours- feel free to comment below. 

Questions of the Day: 
What after-school/extracurricular programs had an impact on your childhood?  
Can you name a specific way music affected your life? a specific moment that illustrates that?

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