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Program Prepares Kids for Performing Arts Auditions



EMILY SCHUTZ, HOST:

Next Friday is the deadline for New York City public high school applications. Students who want to go to a performing arts high school have to audition.


DAVID MARQUES, HOST:

Some kids get private coaching to help them sing on key. Others can’t afford it. Lucy Grindon reports on a program that helps low-income students ace their auditions.


LUCY GRINDON, BYLINE: The program is called Reaching for the Arts. It was started by Sharon Daley-Johnson, the performing arts teacher at PS 191 in midtown.


SHARON DALEY-JOHNSON: Students would say to me, "Oh, I'm going to audition for LaGuardia High School," and I'd say, "Okay, sing for me." And I was like, "Oh, my goodness, no, you're not ready." It just killed me.



GRINDON: So in 2015, she and a colleague created a program that brings in talented actors and musicians to coach students for their high school auditions. One seventh grader, Jeremiah Brock-Gamboa, wants to audition for acting and singing next year.


JEREMIAH BROCK-GAMBOA: [singing] "God is a woman" by Ariana Grande


GRINDON: Jeremiah is determined to get in. The program paired him up with a musical theater major from The Professional Performing Arts High School, who’s been mentoring him.


BROCK-GAMBOA: Emily is very helpful. I feel like she's an amazing actress. And if she ever makes it big, I would love to work with her one day.


GRINDON: Daley-Johnson finds coaches at the Manhattan School of Music, and also draws from the pool of students who have gone through the program in the past. Jeremiah’s mentor, Emilie Miranda, is one of them. When she was in the 8th grade, Reaching for the Arts helped her prep for her auditions.


EMILIE MIRANDA: Reaching for the Arts, like, completely changed my life. They gave me the opportunity to have these certain vocal lessons and acting classes for free. A lot of these classes cost thousands and thousands of dollars. But for kids like me, who are middle class, there's a lot of kids who are struggling and have those same dreams.


GRINDON: She tries to help the kids she mentors get in touch with their emotions.


MIRANDA: I try to just teach them not only about like, "Hey, look at this material, but also, are you digesting the material? How does that make you feel? How can you use your, you know, human past experiences into your work?"


GRINDON: Reaching for the Arts has helped 66 kids get into arts high schools over the years. The organization gets funding from city grants. But those grants can only be used to pay for group programming, like choir. If families can afford it, they pay $30 an hour for individual lessons. For those who can’t afford it, the individual lessons are funded by private donations and fundraisers. Daley-Johnson says the organization decides how much to charge each family on a case-by-case basis.


DALEY-JOHNSON: I know that mom's a single mom. So I'm not going to say to her, we charge $30. Can you pay half?


GRINDON: Having coaching can make a real difference. John Hamilton is on LaGuardia High School’s music faculty. He reviews vocal music auditions. He says you can tell who’s had training and who hasn’t.


JOHN HAMILTON: On more than one occasion, we've had kids come into audition, and they finish their song and you think, "Wow, you know, that was just amazing. Okay, let me hear you sing these [singing] da-da-da-da-da," and they go "la-la-la-la." It has to do with having a trainer who can spend enough time with you, teaching you, you know, here's your starting note, now you have to go to this place.


GRINDON: Though the auditions are always competitive, Daley-Johnson estimates that Reaching for the Arts has more than 90 percent success rate.


DALEY-JOHNSON: They might not have gotten to their first choice, but they've gotten into a performing arts high school.


GRINDON: And that may be the first step on the long, difficult road to stardom.


Lucy Grindon, Columbia Radio News



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