New plan aimed at boosting arts education for Detroit middle schoolers

Middle schoolers will get a chance to hone their artistic talents and immerse themselves in the city’s creative offerings, thanks to a growing arts program that will be offered by the Detroit district in the fall.  

School officials announced Tuesday they plan to create middle school arts conservatories at Brenda Scott Academy for Theatre Arts, Duke Ellington Conservatory of Music & Art, John R. King Academic and Performing Arts Academy, and Spain Elementary-Middle School.  

“This is the beginning of a process to give our students what they deserve and the desirable, clear pathway to excellence when it comes to the arts,” Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said.  

Twenty-four arts organizations will work with the district to help increase student exposure to the city’s arts and cultural institutions, whether that’s bringing professional artists to classrooms or giving students tickets to see a concert or a play. 

The new initiative is part of a broader effort to boost arts education in the district and increase enrollment at DSA. Only 470 students are enrolled this year, but Vitti said the district hopes to eventually enroll at least 700 students.

Vitti said that expanding partnerships with arts organizations, such as the Michigan Opera Theatre, College for Creative Studies, and the Detroit Institute of the Arts, will better support each schools’ learning equipment needs, among others. Several national organizations, including the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, will also be involved.

“There are gaps that exist with instruments, there’s gaps that exist with exposure to actual professional performances. It depends on the partner, it depends on the school and it depends on the program, but when they see a need we can’t fill, they’ll step in,” he said.

The four participating schools are considered “feeder schools,” elementary or middle schools whose students graduate and would ideally enroll at DSA. But any district student entering 6-8 grade in the fall can apply for the programs. 

The district wants DSA to be the premier fine and performing arts high school in the Tri-County area. But there aren’t long waiting lists to attend the school, and many families are unaware of its offerings.

The district hopes these conservatories will generate student interest in the arts at a younger age, with hopes that they’ll eventually go to DSA. Vitti said in the last two years, more than 100 arts teachers have been hired across the district. 

The middle school conservatories will offer dance, theatre, visual arts, instrumental music, and vocal music.   

Last year, the district restored a focus on arts enrichment by hiring arts and music teachers in all district schools, revamping the curriculum, and creating training opportunities for teachers. Many of the schools didn’t have arts programming when the district was run by emergency managers for nearly eight years.  

Vitti also said $22 million has been raised so far to support the work of the organizations and the district.