CONCORD -- Although Meadow Homes Elementary is considered a low-performing campus in the Mt. Diablo school district, it shined in the eyes of White House officials and famous artists who visited Wednesday.

"All of you can make your dreams come true," opera singer Carla Dirlikov told the students. "But you have to really work hard in school."

The school, which is located in the Monument Corridor of Concord, includes a large percentage of English learners and Hispanic children who have struggled in the past to keep up academically with their peers at campuses in wealthier parts of the district. But the school and its students have blossomed with an extra focus on arts and funding from a federal School Improvement Grant during the past two years.

The school was one of 10 in the state chosen last May to participate in a special arts initiative program from the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. The program pairs schools with well-known artists who encourage children to follow their dreams and be anything they want to be. Dirlikov, whose mother is Mexican and father is Bulgarian, said she was bullied as a child, so she sang to herself. She later pursued a successful career as an opera singer, following her passion and her dreams, she said.

Similarly, fashion designer Alvin Valley said he had to persuade his Cuban father that he would rather be a fashion designer than an architect. Saying he is known as "the king of pants," he encouraged students to find one thing they love and to practice it and do it well. And lest they think a fashion designer doesn't need math, Valley said he uses mathematics, calculus and physics to design his clothes.


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"I want all of you to be entrepreneurial in one way or another," he said. "Own it, so you don't have to be derailed by anyone else's ideas or misconceptions."

He pointed out that Hispanics will soon make up the majority of the country's population.

"We will be calling the shots," he said. "I can't wait until we have our first Latino president."

During a round table discussion with teachers and parents before a town-hall meeting at the school hosted by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, fourth-grade teacher Jessica Beerbaum said she has seen a dramatic change in her students' abilities to think creatively and critically since the school started integrating arts into the curriculum.

"I've come to believe the arts truly expand kids' brains," she said.

Students said they felt proud that their school was chosen for the special visit.

"I liked their message because it encouraged us to do good in school and do what you like, and you have to have education to do that and go to college because that keeps us on the right road," said Savanna Burris, 10, whose mother is studying black history. "I want to be a singer, a dancer and a historian, like my mom."

Kevin Chavez, 10, wants to be an artist when he grows up. He said he used math to make his self-portrait symmetrical.

"I used to hate math, but now I like it," he said. "Using art with it helps me understand it better."

Many children said they were most impressed with Dirlikov's singing, and noticed that her singing voice was different from her talking voice. Dirlikov said she was deeply impressed with the students.

"I could easily stay here all day and all week and just learn from what you're doing," she said. "I really think we've got to get more artists into schools because it's enriching and rewarding for us."

More information
Details about the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics is available by visiting www.ed.gov/edblogs/hispanic-initiative.
To see video clips from the town hall on the Value of Arts in Education, visit www.contracostatimes.com/education.