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Orr Academy High School is a small school on Chicago’s West side that Principal Dr. Shanele Andrews says has a “family-feel.”

Because of the small size of the school, Dr. Andrews works hard to help cultivate a feeling of belonging among the students. “Students face a lot of issues in their lives,” Dr. Andrews said. It is therefore vital for the faculty and staff to develop a personalized relationship with the students so they can work on their issues and, in turn, succeed in school.

Because of the small size of the school, the overall arts education options at Orr are limited. Students are able to take drama and art class, and they are developing an after-school music program. But as one of the recipients of funding from the New Chance Arts and Literature Fund (NCALF), Orr Academy High School is now in the process of building a new digital media lab.

The addition of a digital media lab in the school will complement the family-feel that makes Orr unique.

Students will be able to experience more personalized education thanks to the NCALF grant. “Now we can offer an arts program that is individualized to the students who want more lanes of art, which we didn’t have before,” Dr. Andrews said. Students can flourish in sports, academics, and now arts education at Orr.

Along with the digital media lab, the grant from NCALF will fund repairing and replacing existing visual arts supplies. This will be a huge help, Dr. Andrews said that in the past, they have had to fundraise to get supplies.

Orr is looking forward to the way the grant will open many doors for the students.

The biggest challenge as a teacher, he said, is getting students’ confidence up and instilling belief in themselves. The teacher said, “I’m getting them to learn to believe…that they know way more than they think they do.” The grant will help the students realize that a wide array of opportunities exist for them, and it will help them bridge the gap between not knowing about something and knowing that anything is possible.

As an avid sketch artist, sculptor, and mosaic artist, Orr senior Anasti sees the donation from NCALF as greatly beneficial. Though her favorite class is pre-calculus, her favorite thing to do outside of school is to draw. The donation thus “opens up more opportunity for me to learn new things and cultures, methods and techniques,” she said.

Fellow Orr senior Justin feels similarly about the new funding. “It’s a great opportunity,” he said. “Now we have the platform to actually change things.” Justin sees that creativity, too, provides opportunities. With more opportunities to be creative, he said, students will get to learn things about themselves that they never thought possible, like the way he learned to play the flute or saxophone. Before touching the instruments himself, he had only seen them in cartoons or on TV. Once he picked them up, he realized that he loved playing them.

Learn more about the New Chance Arts & Literature Fund. You can also learn more about our mission and other initiatives like Warmest Winter Chicago and Open Mike.

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