It's not easy to create a high-performing school in a poverty-stricken environment. That's where a magnet program comes into play.
It's one tool educators can use to raise expectations, spirits, and grades in these situations, and it's working as planned at Charles Drew K-8 Center.
The school is situated in the heart of Liberty City, in a neighborhood struggling under the twin pressures of rampant crime and family dysfunction, but all of that is left outside the school walls.
“We call this our little slice of paradise, when we come here it’s a very positive, nurturing environment," said Tracie Lewis, the school's principal.
"Because we don’t know what they experience when they go home, and based on what we see in the news we know there are definite issues in this area, we just don’t want those issues to spill over into our school.”
Charles Drew has a performing arts magnet program which features a dance troupe. The girls on the team learn much more than ballet, modern dance, hip hop, and jazz styles. What they get out of this program impacts everything they do.
"A lot of the girls come in with a lot of self-esteem issues from home and other aspects of their life and this is a way for them to let it out through creativity, through their artistry, so it does boost morale, it does boost confidence," said dance teacher Ricardo Dume.
"They're always motivated to come to school because of dance." Dume says everyone is invited to their Spring Concert on May 27th.
The school is in the district of Miami-Dade School Board Member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall.
"We know where we are, we know the zip code," Bendross-Mindingall said, referring to the difficulties in the neighborhood, while praising the performing arts program as a game-changer for many kids at the school.
"They do an awesome job of teaching the basics, but the children need this."
Charles Drew is also home to an innovative after-school music club. Run by the Miami Music Project, it exposes kids to symphonic instruments, and they learn to play for free.
“You see so many of these kids, they grow, they become more social, they’re happier, they have a great opportunity with music," said music teacher Adriel Lyles.
"They also grow socially, they become leaders, they take initiative, they learn the values of working hard and applying that to real life."
Darren Madden's daughter is in third grade, learning to play the upright bass.
“I’ve impressed upon her that reading music is like reading books, it’s another language, you gotta learn it, and she really took to it like a duck to water," Madden said.
The principal says they're making strides academically at Charles Drew, with a big assist from the arts. Remember that next time you hear about a school district cutting back on arts education.