By Madina Toure
City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) received a plaque for his commitment to arts education last week at PS 255 in Fresh Meadows, where he highlighted significant improvements in arts education.
A graduate of the school, located at 158-40 76th Road, Lancman provided the school with a $20,000 grant through the Cultural After-School Adventure initiative, also known as CASA. The initiative funds Marquis Studios’ Circus Arts program. A group of schoolchildren performed in the school’s auditorium, along with clowns , Jan. 6.
The Circus Arts program provides students with 10 sessions that teach them such clowning skills as pantomime, juggling, balancing, object manipulation, tumbling, skills choreography and clown routine design and execution.
“There was a time in our city where did not have arts education, where we cut arts and music and dance and theater out of schools to save money and we realized what a terrible mistake that was and now we’re putting all this money into arts programs, including the CASA program and we’re here today to receive the products and the fruits of that effort,” Lancman said.
Following an investment of $23 million by the city Department of Education and millions more from the City Council, the city now has a record-high number of certified arts teachers, according to Lancman.
About 95 percent of high school students complete arts classes by graduation, up from around half of students in 2011, and roughly 89 percent of Queens schools are partnered with at least one cultural arts educational organization, he said.
The councilman also said 96 percent of middle schools offer education in at least one discipline and 71 percent offer instruction in two or more of the following disciplines: dance, music, theater or visual arts.
Barbara Pollard, director of special projects for Marquis Studios, a nonprofit founded in 1977 that provides arts-in-education services to city public schools, said Council members are each allowed to give CASA grants to seven different schools annually. Each grant is $20,000, and can be used for after-school programs.
But because PS 255 is in District 75, a citywide district for students with disabilities, the programs can be conducted during the day, Pollard said.
Lancman has also allocated funding to PS 173 at 174-10 67th Ave. to work with Marquis Studios, which conducts after-school programs that teach such skills as bhangra dancing, mosaics, collages, puppetry and mask theatre, she added.
“After the teaching artists leave, the skills that the kids learned while they’re with the clowns can then be translated back into the classroom,” Pollard said. “They follow directions, they refine their small motor skills and their large motor skills. They learn how to focus on a task.”
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour