Oxon Hill Middle School officials hailed the arrival of a $5,000 arts program grant from an area furniture store chain as just what the school needs as it works to reinvigorate its performing arts department.
Representatives for the Connecticut-based Bob’s Discount Furniture, which has a location in Hyattsville, awarded the school $5,000 Wednesday as part of its seventh annual Celebrate the Arts contest, which gives a school in each state in which it operates a grant for the school’s arts program.
Through the contest, Bob’s distributes $45,000 annually across nine states.
Oxon Hill Middle chorus teacher Angelica Brooks said she encouraged her fellow teachers and friends to enter the school’s name in the contest, in which winners were selected randomly, after hearing about it on the radio.
“When I found out about the program, I thought, ‘This is a shot in the dark,’ but figured we should just try for it anyway,” Brooks said. “Who knew that we would actually get it?”
Principal Wendell Coleman said he has been trying to provide a renewed focus on the school’s arts programs since he joined the school last fall.
“You couldn’t even walk on stage when I arrived last year, it was so cluttered,” Coleman said of the condition of the program when he joined the school.
Officials plan to use the money to purchase acoustic shells for the school’s stage, which will improve sound quality for audiences of vocal and instrumental music concerts, plays and musicals, along with speeches and other assemblies. Coleman said the grant should be able to cover the entire cost of the shells.
“It’s important, particularly at the middle school level, to give students the opportunity to express themselves,” Coleman said. “And those involved in these programs tend to do better academically. This money came just in time, since I was getting these requests for risers and acoustic shells and I was having a hard time finding a way to pay for them.”
Maurice McKisset, manager of Bob’s Discount Furniture in Hyattsville, who attended the ceremony on behalf of the company, said the contest is intended to help fill the gap in arts funding, which often is caused by shrinking school budgets.
“Arts education is one of the things that make a well-rounded and successful individual,” McKisset said. “This is one of the things we can do, because we don’t want it to slip.”
Prince George’s County School Board Member Edward Burroughs III (Dist. 8) of Temple Hills, whose district includes Oxon Hill Middle, said such grants are a big help to schools trying to maintain arts programs despite shrinking budgets.
“We’ve cut more than $300 million over the last three or four years, so discretionary funds have been significantly reduced,” Burroughs said. “And the arts are traditionally the first thing to be sacrificed. So it’s remarkable that Bob’s donated such a large amount of money [to preserve those programs].”
Latisha Wilkes is a student advocate at the school and mother of seventh grader Leah Wilkes-Blakeney, 12, who recently joined the school chorus.
Wilkes said it is important, despite shrinking arts budgets, that students have access to quality equipment.
“If kids don’t have good equipment, they’re more likely not to care about it or take it seriously,” Wilkes said. “But when they take this seriously, they’re more likely to take their school work seriously, because they’ll want the A’s and B’s needed to stay involved.”