Academy award winner Forest Whitaker visited Findley Elementary in Des Moines Thursday as part of the Turnaround Arts program. Whitaker has mentored students at Findley that last two years as part the program which incorporates art education into traditional classroom subjects to help low performing schools.
Whitaker says he’s seen a positive change among the students over the past year. “Going to Washington to perform, all these things are incentivizers but more than that, they’re a verifier for the kids that they really matter,”Whitaker says.
He says it was fun to see the school in person. “I’m having a great time with them because there is so much joy. I think that was the one thing about the school that you see, no matter what class you go to,” Whitaker says. “Using the arts and also combining that with some of the conflict conversations about how to deal with their everyday lives. Dealing with bullying, dealing with communication and talking and expanding themselves.”
Since 2011, Findley students have increased their math and reading proficiency and seen suspensions and behavior referrals drop. An additional 4 Des Moines schools will join the Turnaround Arts program next year.
Whitaker won an Oscar for his performance in the 2006 movie “The Last King of Scotland.” He has appeared in several other movies such as “The Butler” and “Good Morning Vietnam,” and also has appeared on several television shows.