The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has chosen Bethlehem as the 24th city, and first in Pennsylvania, to begin the Ensuring the Arts for Any Given Child program.
The program is designed to create a long-term arts education plan for students from kindergarten through eighth grade. Lehigh’s Zoellner Arts Center will become the lead organization for the program.
One of the goals of the program is to bring arts experiences, particularly performing arts, into local schools. There are 16 elementary schools and four middle schools in the Bethlehem Area School District that will benefit from the arts program.
Joseph Roy, the superintendent of Bethlehem area schools, said the program aims to provide arts experiences for students who do not have the resources to do so on their own.
“We can have opportunities for kids, but if they cannot access them, then it is not an opportunity for them,” he said.
Roy said the program is trying to solve an access and equity issue to provide equal opportunities in the arts, both for families and students who have resources and those who do not.
Lehigh submitted a proposal to the Kennedy Center about a year ago outlining why the Bethlehem Area School District wanted to start the program. The center saw the value and enthusiasm Bethlehem had for the program and chose the city as its first site in Pennsylvania.
Andy Cassano, the administrative director of Zoellner Arts Center, has high hopes for the program.
“The purpose of this program is to help a community come together to create a strategic plan that will reinvent how the arts are used in education in a school district,” Cassano said, “as well as providing the equity and access to available resources.”
Although the program has not yet begun, goals and plans have been discussed. There is a large focus on creating holistic programs and a sustainable program that will carry into the future.
Cassano said the first year of the program will focus on its strategic planning while years two through four will be geared toward implementation.
Starting in October, meetings will be held once a month to begin the planning.
The Bethlehem district hopes to eliminate the challenge of getting children out to performances by bringing them directly to the schools.
Roy is very excited to launch the new initiative.
“We want to have the students go through our system and graduate with a wide background and wide range of experiences,” he said.
Cassano said he has many short- and long-term goals for the arts program.
Short term, he said he wants to see the community come together and agree on how it will work together to help the arts program. Long term, Cassano wants Bethlehem to become a model city where a generation of students will grow up with the arts as a relevant part of their lives. He hopes the program will make people more culturally tolerant.
Another goal of the program is to help people recognize the arts are an important part of a community. Cassano hopes people will attend the events made possible by the program, making them want to donate and support the cause.
Alexis Raskin, ’20, is a volunteer tutor at Broughal Middle School in Bethlehem and thinks the program will provide benefits for the students.
“I tutor them in basic curriculum like math, but I think exposing them to the arts can improve their education,” Raskin said.
Cassano eventually wants to expand the Any Given Child program to make it a Lehigh Valley-wide initiative.