BEMIDJI-The stereo boomed in Red Lake Middle School's gym.
As the student body-and a Grammy-winning producer-watched Friday, Feb. 22, school leaders handed out awards for attendance and academic achievement. After a quick break, they tromped outside for a snow snakes tournament and snowshoe races.
The producer, DJ Iz Avila, tried his hand at the traditional Indigenous game, zinging a painted wooden pole at a hula hoop as it trundled across a cleared out part of the ballfields outside the school. He was there via "Turnaround Arts," a Washington, D.C.-based program that works to integrate art into struggling schools' curriculum.
An artist from the program visits the middle school nearly every year to chat with students, teach them a thing or two about music, and more.
Avila posed for photographs with students who earned awards during the pep rally, tried his hand at snow snakes, and played a small set at lunchtime. He also visited a few classrooms, played some basketball with students, and got a sneak preview of a song middle school students are putting together under the Turnaround program. Last year's song, "Where We Belong," was a hit on Bemidji-area social media.
Avila has won five Grammy awards and has DJed for Usher for the last six years, according to the program's website. He's "adopted" Standing Rock Middle School in North Dakota via the program, and told students at Red Lake it was an honor and a blessing to be there.
Red Lake's middle school is one of eight Minnesota schools in the program, which aims to use art education to help low-performing schools. The Minnesota Department of Education designated those eight for improvement after a round of testing a few years ago. Program literature claims students who participate regularly in the arts are more confident, attend and graduate school at a higher rate, and are more likely to attend a four-year university.
In previous years, soft-spoken singer and songwriter Citizen Cope has visited the middle school.