Imagine this: A school where backpacks are prohibited for fear students would use them to carry weapons instead of books, a school where security guards roamed the halls like military soldiers, a place so plagued by violence and disciplinary problems that it went through 5 principals in 7 years, a place that was considered a “career killer.” This was Orchard Gardens School in Roxbury, MA.
In 2003, when the school was built there was excitement and fanfare surrounding its inception and philosophy: the school would be predicated upon a heavy arts program–it had a dance studio, orchestra instruments, and art rooms–the community was thrilled; perhaps, the school would enrich the children of the community. But, from the start, the program failed. The dance studio became a storage room for the instruments, and the art program never happened. Soon the school deteriorated, and by 2010, it was ranked in the bottom five in the entire state of Massachusetts.
Enter Andrew Bott, the sixth principal in 7 years.
The first thing Mr. Bott did was fire all the security guard, a bold and daring move in a school riddled with violence, and one met by skepticism from his colleagues; he then dusted off the instruments, waxed the studio floors, and opened the art rooms, and guess what? No one died. In fact, what happened next was something of a fairy tale. Suddenly, students were beginning to thrive; kids were coming out of their shells and painting and making music and actually learning, suddenly, they wanted to go to school.
Orchard Gardens has now become one of the fastest improving schools in the country, and the hallways instead of being patrolled by security guards are now brimming with brightly colored pictured done by students.
If only more schools followed Mr. Bott’s belief that art can transform lives, we might actually become a less violent society.