In the limelight

Kenwood arts magnet showcases elementary students’ artistic talents

A 5th grader named Hali is reciting a poem onstage in the multipurpose room in the basement of Kenwood Community & Performing Arts Magnet (PAM) on an early October morning.

She sits on a piano bench with one leg crossed casually over the other and leans forward, as if to share a secret to a close friend. In a steady voice she begins, “Some people say I’m angry with the world.”

She’s one of 18 students to perform in the school’s talent showcase, “Spotlight,” a quarterly performance throughout the year. Students auditioned in their respective classrooms to be part of the show that underscores the school’s artistic focus.

Kenwood is located in the heart of the Kenwood neighborhood and is approaching its 100 anniversary next year. School officials and community members praise its intimate environment, welcoming atmosphere and academic success. Historically, Kenwood has been a leader in Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) with high achievement on districtwide test scores. It’s also rich in traditions, with well-attended annual events and a loyal teaching staff.

Its slogan, “Smarts + Arts = Kenwood,” expresses its unique formula for blending students from the community program and PAM together starting in 2nd grade – a concept the school tried out for the first time last year in grades 4-5.

Principal Susan Craig, who is in her third year at the school and has 11 years in the district, said it was a natural fit because Kenwood already had a strong arts connection.

“We want to get across how close the community school and PAM are,” she said. “People want to hear that there’s a difference, but we’ve developed a shared vision for the school. We strongly believe in integrating arts into the curriculum.”

Creativity is evident inside the vibrant building that boasts hardwood floors and big windows. Classroom doors are painted bright colors (customized by teachers), as are the stairwells.


For the first Spotlight of the year, performers lined up beside the small stage that juts out from a rectangular frame, or proscenium arch, in the lunchroom. Later in the year, there’ll also be other talent shows, called share-ins, for students to perform.

Onstage, a royal blue curtain is draped behind a microphone, piano and miniature drum set complete with subwoofer. Antsy students sat in rows on the floor, ahead of parents who occupied the fold-up chairs, armed with cameras and video recorders.

Everyone was silent when an administrator clapped her hands into the microphone – except for someone who whispered to one child, “Break a leg!”

The participants exhibited a wide variety of talents/fortes, including everything from instrumental solos to basketball moves. Acts were introduced one-by-one in order of grade level.

A 2nd-grade boy named Taeveon performed an original rap. He was dressed for the part in an oversized, short-sleeved button-down shirt over dark jeans with a gold chain around his neck.

“Clap your hands Š clap your hands in the air,” he instructed the audience while putting his palms together, bending his knees and waving his arms in time to the beat. A woman in the crowd mouthed the words along with him. “You need to know your A, B, C’sŠ1, 2, 3,” they chanted together.

Twin brothers Smack and Lolo, 2nd-graders, imitated rock stars in a drum/guitar set, while a violinist played a hoedown. Two boys flaunted fancy basketball moves. Comedians delivered jokes such as, “Why didn’t a chameleon change colors?” a small boy asked the audience.

“Because he was in the middle of nowhere,” he replied, answering his own question.

Second-grade teacher Scott Kohanek said Spotlight provides valuable learning. Performing in front of large groups improves their confidence and boosts skills. He said the arts infusion, or integration of arts into all disciplines, addresses more student needs than would a narrower focus.

“It makes everyday more fun. It’s nice to be able to meld the two curriculums because everyone learns in a different way,” he said. “It lends a lot of opportunities for all kids to shine and achieve.”

East Calhoun resident Courtney Cushing Kiernat was in the audience to watch her daughter Lucy sing, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

“Some people think we’ll be like ‘Fame’ [the musical], but it’s more of a holistic approach of how to learn outside the traditional. They’re still teaching district stuff but with performing arts techniques,” she said.

Kiernat admires how teachers extend the lesson, instructing children on being respectful and supportive of performers. “It’s not just get up and ‘do your talent.’ Everyone is getting an experience,” she said.

After the hour-long display, the crowd dispersed and children resumed their regular school day.

A good blend

Of 410 students altogether, 110 are enrolled in PAM. Overall, the school has an even split of white and minority students, with 45 percent of the student body living in poverty. In the past five years, Kenwood’s enrollment has remained stable with around 420 students.

Children living nearby are guaranteed spots in the community program, while PAM draws students from across the city and even nearby suburbs.

While staying true to PAM, which was imported five years ago from the now-closed Brookside Elementary School, formerly located at 4100 Vernon Ave. S., the community students reap the benefits of greater arts opportunities, said Craig.

Both programs share a common PTA while fundraisers are also a joint effort. Community members typically raise money for arts residencies and field trips for each grade level. Additionally, the school boasts numerous partnerships with local arts venues.

Parent Tricia Conroy, who co-chairs the site council, has children in 3rd grade and 5th grade in the community program – the third generation in her family to attend the school. Conroy also attended Kenwood, along with her siblings and her mother. She said the school has a familiar smell.

“You’ve got to go into the building. There’s nothing like standing in those hallways, knowing you’re doing the right thing for your kid,” said Conroy.


Anna Pratt can be reached at 436-4391 or [email protected].