Harsche, left, pounds on a drum as her classmate Te'a Vazquez,
far right, raises her arms to direct the volume during a "Beat
the Drum" activity in teacher Darlene Schrenk's kindergarten
classroom at Standing Rock Elementary School in Fort Yates
on Tuesday, Jan. 9. The activity is from the Turnaround Arts
program which Schrenk, second from left, has implemented in
her classroom. (Mike Mccleary, Bismarck Tribune)
Rock Elementary School principal Virginia Long Feather. (Mike
Mccleary, Bismarck Tribune)
STANDING ROCK INDIAN RESERVATION, N.D. The walls of Standing
Rock Elementary School and Standing Rock Middle School are lined
with artwork and the sound of music reverberates from the classrooms.
For both of the schools' administrators and teachers, a real
change has occurred in the past two school years. Morale among students
and teachers has improved at the schools on the Standing Rock Indian
Reservation, which faces challenges of poverty. Through the arts,
self-confidence among students has been boosted, the middle school
This is the second year since the schools were selected to join
the national Turnaround Arts program, which infuses art-based learning
On Tuesday, Jan. 9, both schools were surprised with a visit
from Taboo, a Mexican-American and Native American hip hop artist
and member of the group, the Black Eyed Peas, and Mic Jordan, also
a hip hop artist and enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band
of Ojibwe Tribe. Their visit aligned with the schools' efforts to
bring more artists, particularly Native American artists, to speak
In a classroom Tuesday, Darlene Schrenk used drums to teach
kindergartners syllables. Each student was assigned a drum to beat
on, and they took turns taking the lead in an activity where one
student stood in the middle of the group and acted as the conductor.
Arts-inspired activities like this allows has allowed more freedom
in her classroom, said Schrenk, who is in her ninth year teaching
at Standing Rock.
Virginia Long Feather, principal of Standing Rock Elementary
School, said through the Turnaround Arts program the school has
been able to revamp teaching and learning. The shift has been motivational
for faculty, and Long Feather said she has noticed more enthusiasm
"What this brings for our school is hope," she said. "The climate
here is so much better."
Dwarf, left, and Reanna Yellow Bird and their kindergarten
classmates at Standing Rock Elementary School in Fort Yates
find their focal point during a brain exercise during class
on Tuesday, Jan. 9. The exercise is part of the Turnaround
Arts program, which is being implemented at the town's elementary
and middle schools. (Mike Mccleary, Bismarck Tribune)
The 420-student school incorporates arts into reading, math
and science, Long Feather said. Additionally, they have been able
to include Native American culture and language into their studies.
Artists on Tuesday also stopped by Standing Rock Middle School.
They visited Crissy Archambault's seventh- and eighth-grade science
classroom, which was covered in colorful artwork, including a diagram
of the water cycle, drawings of cells and outlines of the solar
"I love it, because that the type of education she wants to
do," said Archambault, who is in her first year of teaching.
Archambault incorporates STEM known as science, technology,
engineering and mathematics into art. For example, one of
her lessons involves students tracing their bodies and drawing the
Art is invaluable to her students, she said.
"As native people, were are anesthetic; we need to touch to
learn," she said.
Turnaround Arts started in 2011 under former President Barack
Obama administration and the President's Committee on the Arts and
Humanities. The program started off as a pilot project, blending
art into curriculum to help eight of the nation's lowest performing
In 2014, an outside evaluation of these schools found attendance
rates went up and disciplinary referrals decreased. Students' math
and reading proficiency rates also increased over the course of
The Turnaround Arts program, currently led by the John F. Kennedy
Center for the Performing Arts, provides professional development
and resources to schools in conjunction with the U.S. Department
of Education, the National Endowment for the Arts and public-private
Children who are highly engaged in the arts are four times more
likely to finish school, said Kathy Fletcher, national director
of Turnaround Arts.
"We feel like the kids who don't have access to the arts are
arguable the ones who need it the most," Fletcher said, noting many
students who lack access to the arts in school exist in high-poverty
The Turnaround Arts program currently works at 73 schools. Through
her visits at these schools, Fletcher said she has observed a sea
of change among students.
"Oftentimes kids who were getting into trouble a lot or not
coming to school, when they find their passion through the arts,
it's life-changing," she said.
Lisa Bordeaux-Taken Alive, principal of Standing Rock Middle
School, which has 210 students, said the first year as part of the
Turnaround Arts program she wanted to alter her school building
and put more artwork on the walls. Now, the school is adorned with
drawings and paintings by students. This year, she said the school
shifted to become trauma-sensitive, and is attempting to use art
to heal students who have been exposed to trauma.
The school also put together groups of students that explore
various extracurriculars and the arts. This year, the school assembled
a set of students who received the most write-ups in one year, and
they did graffiti spray-painting about family and respect. Their
spray-painted canvases are displayed in the cafeteria, some in Lakota
language, including one with the word, "Kola," which means friend.
On Tuesday, the seventh- and eighth-grade bands displayed their
musical talents for artists Taboo and Mic Jordan.
Mic Jordan, who is a national Turnaround Arts artist currently
working with Standing Rock's elementary and middle schools, said
he can relate to the struggles of Native American youth, and said
he is glad to show that they can achieve their dreams, whether through
art or any other form.
After the band played, students, faculty and staff broke out
into dancing in the cafeteria. Taboo, who is also a national Turnaround
Arts artist, break-danced with some of the students.
"That's the message; it's simple, it's hope, it's inspiration,
it's motivation to keep on fighting, because that's what we need.
We need to tell stories, change the narrative of upliftment and
encourage indigenous kids to say, 'Hey, we can make it,'" Taboo