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“There’s an entire school of kids who have never seen a play and have never been to a museum, ever,” Goslins said. The initiative can help bridge a divide between the school and traditional tribal arts and culture at home, she said.

Some schools will add new arts specialists with their federal grant money. The Roosevelt School in Bridgeport, Conn., has started a band program for the first time in 17 years.

In New Orleans, the Batiste Cultural Arts Academy began an after-school arts program two years ago to change a culture that had been plagued by violence, said principal Ron Gubitz. Now it plans to extend the arts to the regular school day as well.

Gubitz said his school can prove the arts are an “accelerator” for improvements in reading, math and other subjects.

“We have to give kids’ brains an opportunity to synthesize these things we’re teaching them at a deep level,” he said. “That happens best when arts are present in the school.”

James Catterall of the University of California Los Angeles and Susan Dumais of Louisiana State University, who have researched the effects of arts education for at-risk youth, said having White House support could be a breakthrough for other schools. But they both warned it could take years to see measurable improvements.

“Are the feds prepared to hang in with these schools and support them over five years?” Catterall said, noting some initiatives start strong but fade away.

Dumais said people often want fast solutions from educators. “I’m tentatively hopeful,” she said. “I would say patience is key here.”

For Washington, whose star has been rising as an actress since her breakout performance as Ray Charles’ wife in the 2004 movie “Ray,” arts programs might have made the difference for her growing up in the Bronx at the height of the crack epidemic.

“I literally remember walking to dance class, walking those two blocks from my house and seeing crack vials on the street,” Washington said. “I just think, if I wasn’t walking to dance class, where would I have been walking? I just don’t know.”

Children’s theater and ballet taught her about collaborating with others, being accountable and thinking outside the box, she said. It also kept her from being home alone after school.

“I come from a great family,” Washington said. “But it’s easy to fall through the cracks without those resources around you, without those extra things that get you excited about learning.”

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Online: http://turnaroundarts.pcah.gov

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