Queens school's arts program changes lives

- Every corner I turned or every door I opened at M.S. 53 in Far Rockaway, Queens, students were either singing, dancing, or doing some type of performance art.

These classes were nonexistent five years ago, but it all changed in 2011 when Shawn Rux took over as principal. The school had for years been failing.

"MS 53 during that time was a very challenging place," Rux said. "There were 280 suspensions the previous year. There were 22 staff members who quit the previous year. It was just a very tough situation to come into."

But he believed in the students and in the power of education. That's why he was willing to take on the challenge.

"One of the things that was missing here and is missing in many schools across the country is arts," Rux said.

Rux wasn't going to let M.S. 53 continue without an arts program. So he created a special curriculum.

"I believe that arts is an important part of education as it provides an opportunity for kids to be creative, for kids to engage in activities with their peers and teamwork," he said.

Things started to change. The hallways became brighter, positive messages in every wall, including outside. The students who once lacked a sense of pride are now showing it off.

"Every time I come here I'm excited to learn new things," said 6th-grader Trinity Vasquez.

"The positive culture that we're in the process of building is, it's just kind of mind-blowing in away because it's a truly different place," Rux said. "And much of that change in culture stems from our focus on performing arts."

The students of M.S. 53 get to show off their talent every Wednesday for two hours.

"If I get really good I might try to join the band," said 6th-grader Glendale Jenkins.

M.S. 53 even has its own slogan: SWAGGER, which stands for students who achieve good grades earn respect.

In the life-changing music class, the students write their own songs and produce music videos, in which the staff and the principal take part.

"It gives you a way to express your feelings in music," said 6th-grader Jaden Stewart.

"What I do is I allow them to bring their raw uncut versions," said music teacher Dellon Hall.

They are currently working on the song "Can't Drop Out."

"We want to influence kids not to drop out and to stay in school and to stay strong," said 6th-grader Brian Simpson.

May 21 is May Day at M.S. 53. It is the day the students get to perform. It is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is open to the public.

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