To the District 97 school board and the citizens of Oak Park:
Thank you for valuing the arts enough to support BRAVO (Band, Repertory, Art, Vocal, and Orchestra) at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School. We've heard middle school referred to as the "lost years" and indeed it can be challenging to keep young teenagers focused on anything, much less schoolwork. But after seeing BRAVO students in action at the Junior Theater Festival this week in Atlanta, Ga., I'm convinced that the right program, well led and executed, can teach middle-schoolers to focus enough to achieve outstanding results.
BRAVO performed for more than 4,000 festival attendees in Atlanta, not once but twice: first as part of the showcase entertainment on Saturday evening and second as winner of "Outstanding Production 2013" on Sunday evening. Chaperones and kids were stopped throughout the festival by parents, directors and other student participants, asking questions like, "How much do you rehearse?" and "Are you really a public school?" and "How do you recruit so much talent?" It was impossible to explain in a brief conversation the unique combination of
- community and parent support for the arts,
- extraordinary hard work by the kids, and
- an extraordinarily dedicated director who develops discipline and character in her students as she develops their talents in music, dance and acting.
I can't put into words my gratitude for what my children have learned from BRAVO. My three children have participated in band, choir and theater at Brooks, both in the classroom and in extra-curricular activities like the Junior Theater Festival, and BRAVO has been instrumental in developing them academically and personally.
BRAVO programs, and Tina Reynolds in particular, have taught self-assurance, achievement through hard work and discipline, and accountability. I see how OPRF occasionally struggles to attract diverse participants to its extra-curricular activities, but BRAVO is successful at attracting and retaining participants of all ethnicities and social strata, building strong ties of friendship and respect.
Watching the children perform in a "flash mob" outside of Ebenezer Baptist Church, home parish of Martin Luther King Jr., and singing the lyrics ("So I hope that you will tell this tale tomorrow; It will help your heart remember and relive; It will help you feel the anger and the sorrow; and forgive") demonstrated the depth of those ties to all who watched the performance.
My younger children will graduate from D97 in May. I expect the district to prepare my kids for high school, and it has done that. But the experience my son has had preparing for and participating in BRAVO has truly provided a foundation for the rest of his life.
I'm proud to live in a community that recognizes the impact of the arts on academic achievement, and I look forward to seeing the students BRAVO produces in the years to come.