Words Beats & Life Academy brings free graffiti, DJing, breakdancing classes to local schools

WTOP's Jason Fraley highlights the WBL Academy (Part 1)

This is Part 2 of a two-part series. Click here for Part 1.

On Monday, WTOP told you about the Words Beats & Life Festival this week in the D.C. area.

Now, we explore the educational outreach that the nonprofit WBL Academy brings to local classrooms.

“There’s a multitude of things that fit under the umbrella of the academy,” academy director Donney Rose told WTOP. “At the forefront is the after-school programming, which takes place at St. Stephens Church. … We also have a virtual academy, so if a young person lives in the DMV but lives beyond the city limits of D.C., they can take classes like graffiti, street art and poetry through our virtual academy, so the academy is all-encompassing.”

Indeed, the WBL Academy offers free after-school art classes for youth ages 12 to 18 and young adults ages 18 to 22 at the WBL headquarters in St. Stephens Church at 1525 Newton Street in Northwest D.C. Students can take the Green Line Metro to the Columbia Heights stop, which is an eight-minute walk to the academy, or they can take the H8, S1 and S2 buses that stop at 16th and Newton streets in Northwest directly in front of the academy.

The academy also visits the schools themselves, currently providing in-school electives at Sousa Elementary School, John Hayden Johnson Middle School, Cardozo Education Campus and Anacostia High School. Past participants include Benjamin Banneker High School, Bancroft Elementary School, Payne Elementary School, Patterson Elementary School, J.O. Wilson Elementary School, and Columbia Heights Educational Campus.

“WBL is breathing life into the lives of these young students. We’re changing lives,” WBL in-school manager Javier Starks told WTOP. “Imagine in between science and math you go learn to be a DJ for an hour! We’re bringing an aspect of art to schools that most of us who are listening to this interview have never experienced. Gym might have been the extracurricular highlight of your day, but now you can just go do graffiti in third period.”

Snacks are served, but he insists that it’s not just playtime. Students can actually earn school credits.

“At Sousa, specifically, we are a graded class, so the kids who come to our graffiti and comic-book creation class get grades that go on their report cards that lead to their transcript,” Starks said. “We offer breakdancing, graffiti, DJing, MCing, poetry, chess, photography, African drumming, Manga creation, comic-book creation, digital illustration, entrepreneurial classes, step classes — it’s constantly expanding and these classes are all free.”

While some students may discover a future career in the arts, others can simply use it to stimulate their brains for their other general courses throughout the day, using turn tables to kick-start their times tables.

“Kids are like, ‘This is the coolest thing ever!'” Starks said. “Kids are very excited to come to class. Principals and teachers have mentioned that some students who are more likely to not be engaged have been looking forward to art. At Sousa, they don’t have an art program, so we are the art. Thinking of underserved communities who may or may not have those programs at all, it’s cool to be the art program in some spaces — and not orthodox art.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley highlights the WBL Academy (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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