The Power of Art to Educate

On September, 14th, 2015, I sat down with Andrew Bott, Principal of Lincoln School in Brookline, Massachusetts. Andrew Bott is known for his work at Orchard Gardens, formerly one of the five lowest performing K-8 schools in the state of Massachusetts. The violence plagued school was known as a drop-out factory where the dormant potential of students, teachers, and administrators tarnished like the unused musical instruments that had been stored in the school’s damp storage room for years. This all changed in 2010 when Principal Bott stepped on the scene with what he called an obvious solution:

“You don’t need a prison-like structure when you build a school that kids want to go to, when you build a school where kids have choices and options and are part of the community.”

Andrew Bott, who does not have an arts background, dismantled the school’s bloated security infrastructure, and re-purposed the funds to hire art teachers and create an art-focused school that championed the humanity of the students, teachers, and the community. To Principal Bott, it was a question of social justice, but to many others, his plan was professional suicide. He explained,

“It didn’t feel like a risk at all. When you invest all that money into an arts program, a real deep, high- quality program, the results are what we got. We got a school that very rapidly became highly effective.”

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Violence dropped, morale went up, and the school became a physically and emotionally safe environment that provided teachers and students with what they needed to become high performers. In only two years, the school had made some of the highest gains in the state, earning the recognition of Governor Deval Patrick, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, First Lady Michelle Obama, and President Obama, who invited students to perform a song at the White House. In 2012, Orchard Gardens was selected by the President’s Commission on the Arts & Humanities for using the arts to dramatically improve instruction.

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In North America’s climate of scripted education, high stakes testing, and other counterproductive practices, it is encouraging to encounter a principal with the courage to champion the humanity of the students, teachers, and the community. Principal Bott believes that all teachers, just like all students want to succeed. It is just a matter of providing a safe environment that allows them to develop themselves.

Andrew Bott has proven the effectiveness of developing community and advocating for humanity in education through the arts. I would like to thank Andrew Bott for taking the time to share his story and for daring to go against the grain to engage, educate, and empower.

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