Gala Benefits Arts Education and More at GR Public Schools

Gala Benefits Arts Education and More at GR Public Schools

Maggie Malone knows that art changes lives.

As the Director of Fine Arts for Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS), it’s something the administrator sees on a daily basis, but the belief is even more strongly rooted in her own personal story.

Maggie Malone

Maggie Malone

Malone grew up in poverty, without familial role models to push her toward a college education. A natural knack for the clarinet led to full and partial scholarships to several public universities in Michigan.

After she became the first in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University, Malone said many in her family have gone on to do the same, even pursuing advanced degrees.

“Music became a way to break the cycle,” she said.

Helping other students live up to their potential is at the heart of the work done by the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation. The nonprofit organization serves as a strategic fundraising partner for GRPS, securing funding for arts education, environmental education, literacy, math, science and technology, physical wellness and other special initiatives.

The transformative power of art and music will be the main focus at the upcoming MindShare fundraising gala, taking place April 27. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is a sponsor of the event, which benefits the GRSAF.

As the largest and one of the most diverse school districts in West Michigan, over 86 percent of students in GRPS qualify for free or reduced lunch. GRSAF Executive Director Michele Suchovsky said ensuring that all students have access to enrichment opportunities and the type of education their suburban peers have is crucial to create real and positive change in Grand Rapids and the entire community.

For the 2014-2015 school year, the foundation funded $1.5 million worth of grants to the district, with $85,000 going to fine arts programming.

Every grade K-12 has some form of music and arts programming in the district. All elementary students are exposed to the visual arts and general music instruction. At the middle school and high school levels, options expand to higher-level visual arts classes and band, choir, or orchestra. Specific schools offer violin instruction, dance and theater. Malone said the district hopes to expand a theater option to all middle school and high school buildings eventually.

She said arts programming in the district wouldn’t be nearly as robust without support from the GRSAF. Malone has dedicated her career to working in urban districts as a way to pay forward the support she received coming from an underprivileged background. Part of the reason she decided to come to Grand Rapids is because of the outpouring of support for the arts she’s found in the community.

For kids who might lack basic necessities, exposure to art can provide an outlet that core curriculum areas might not. Malone said many of her best music students often struggled in other classes, but found something to connect to in the arts. The programming helps elevate learning in other subjects for all students, she said.

“Research is now showing us that kids in poverty need more art and more music because it’s the application of those things and those experiences that support learning,” Malone explained.

Learn more about the foundation and its work here.

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