First Lady Michelle Obama and actress Kerry Washington visit arts program at D.C. school

Story and photos by Silvia Rodriguez

To read story at the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire, click here.

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Actress Kerry Washington, left, and first lady Michelle Obama, applaud a performance by students at Savoy Elementary School in Washington. Washington and Obama visited classrooms and greeted the kids during their visit. SHFWire photo by Silvia Rodriguez.

WASHINGTON – Students from Savoy Elementary School put on poodle skirts and button downs Friday for a special performance for first lady Michelle Obama and actress Kerry Washington.

Once the lowest performing school in the District, last year Savoy was selected as one of eight schools to be part of the Tunraround Arts initiative. Since then, the school has adopted a program that integrates art classes into the everyday curriculum.

Obama started off her visit in classrooms. In Jacqueline Lyons’ pre-K class, Obama played freeze dance with the children. She also visited Kristen Hayes’ art class and chatted with the students about the sculptures they were working on.

“We did some freeze-dancing. I still have my moves,” the first lady joked in her remarks to the student body during an assembly. “But what is good to see is that every day here at Savoy, you all are seeing the connection that the arts and that academics subjects have with one another.”

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First lady Michelle, left, Obama high-fives friend and actress Kerry Washington after the latter performed with students from Savoy Elementary School. Washington is involved with the school and routinely visits and send messages via video. SHFWire photo by Silvia Rodriguez.

After Obama spoke, a group of students took to the stage and performed a 1950s-themed dance, followed by a musical number.

Washington, who is the assigned artist of Savoy Elementary, participated in the Lindy Hop with some of the kids and did several cartwheels on stage. Washington stars in the TV show “Scandal,” which is set in Washington, and is a graduate of  George Washington University.

“We got ready by practicing a lot. We practiced on Saturdays and we just kept running it through until we got it looking perfect,” said Tionna Robinson, 10, who is a fourth-grader at Savoy Elementary and who participated in the performance.

The President’s Committee’s Turnaround Arts initiative was created with the intention of proving that high-quality and integrated arts education can help improve academics and get students motivated to succeed, particularly in schools facing rough academic challenges. It is funded by private and public partnerships within the community and by the government.

“The arts program is fun, you get to do dances and paint. You work real hard and do performances. It’s very fun,” Tionna said.

Third-grader Briana Sears, 9, described performing for the first lady in one word: “Fascinating.”

“It’s been an amazing piece of history for the school,” said Carol Foster, 64, the arts’ program coordinator and self-acclaimed “chief creative officer.” “Today has just been so emotional because it’s been so hard to do everything and get everybody behind it.”

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First lady Michelle Obama embraces fifth-grader Saralé Hardy. Saralé, 11, teared up when she met the first lady after having performed for her Friday. SHFWire photo by Silvia Rodriguez.

Obama recalled a visit of a Savoy drama group to the White House and praised the children and the school.

“But just know that you have a lot of people who love you, including me. I am so impressed by all of you.  I’m impressed by your school. I’m impressed by the improvements that you have made. I’m impressed by your teachers, and the life and the love that is in this school. I want you all to hold onto that every single day,” Obama said.

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