While some high school principals try to attract the best and the brightest to their schools, that’s not the case with Monica Haslip, founder of Chicago’s Little Black Pearl Academy, a public school focused on engagement in arts.
Instead, she asks the school district to find students who are headed down the wrong path and send them to her.
Little Black Pearl (LBP) grew out of an after-school arts program that Haslip expanded into a full-time school when she saw the need to reach out to students in Chicago’s poorest and most violence-prone neighborhoods in order to keep them enrolled.
“A lot of young people who dropped out of school, they’re still engaged in hip-hop and rap and drawing and tagging all the things that we see in our communities that are tied to the arts,” she told Hari Sreenivasan of PBS NewsHour.
What makes this school unique is that it’s infused with activities ranging from glass blowing to poetry to recording music in a studio. Haslip finds that these activities make the kids more than happy to show up for class.
Sreenivasan spoke to Samantha Peterson, a teacher at LBP whose students demonstrated greater academic gains than any other public school students in Chicago. “I dropped out of high school at 15 years old, and I have a GED,” she said. “I grew up on the streets in the South Side of Chicago, in and out of group homes, as a ward of the Illinois court, so I had a lot of problems in my life, and I can personally relate to all — a lot of the experiences that they’re going through.”
The goal of this arts enrichment is to not only help the students graduate and ease some of their trauma over the violence endemic to their neighborhoods through creative expression, but also to show kids that there are career paths open to them in disciplines that they might find more engaging than math.
“Just by providing them with the tools and the equipment and the professional support helps them to see that there is a pathway for a career,” Haslip said.