International opera singer gets
real with Meadow Homes kids

By Bev Britton on March 20, 2017

Meadow Homes Opera Singer for websiteFifth-grade students at Meadow Homes Elementary gather around Carla Dirlikov Canales during the singer’s visit to the school last month.

When Carla Dirlikov Canales visits Meadow Homes Elementary School, it’s like opening night at the opera.

The excited students gather in anticipation of the performance, which this time included the internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano singing a verse from “Carmen” in French. Canales also guided budding thespians through a “Lion King” rehearsal and taught the students words she had learned in her travels – such as “snack” in Chinese and “love” in French.

“She has such a gift for ‘getting little’ and relating to kids at their level and with their interests,” says Ursula Leimbach, public information officer for the Mt. Diablo Unified School District.
“They had lots of questions for her, including where she had been around the world,” Leimbach adds. “She would point to places on a map or a globe and rattle off India, China, Italy, France, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina – and the very global city of Tucson, Arizona.”

Canales is an artist in residence at the school through the Turnaround Arts program. In 68 schools across the country, Turnaround Arts provides high-need schools with arts resources, training and arts integration into other subject areas to help address broader school challenges.

Research shows increases in reading and math scores, as well as an increase in attendance and a decrease in suspensions, after a few years of participation in Turnaround Arts. Meadow Homes joined the program in 2014.

“I love the kids and the teachers there and have always been made to feel a part of the family within the school,” Canales says. “One of the things I think is most important about Turnaround Arts is that it is not a one-off program. We go back, go back often and build relationships. That is key to our success.”

During her February visit, the opera singer met with students in three classrooms and helped them make videos for their pen pals at an elementary school in Florida. She also had lunch with some student leaders and their parents.

“Carla Dirlikov Canales is the definition of a citizen artist,” said Malissa Feruzzi Shriver, California executive director of Turnaround Arts. “She invests her time in connecting students to each other and to the world of creativity. Her generosity and leadership in this field has inspired us all.”

Since joining the program, Meadow Homes has created an Arts Leadership Team, initiated school-wide arts integration practices, hosted school musicals and community arts events and developed a Strategic Arts Plan to guide arts-based school transformation.

Principal Sandra Wilbanks says the program provides an unparalleled opportunity. “When you tie arts education into all areas of the curriculum, you create a rich environment for student learning that truly celebrates and honors students’ cultural backgrounds and traditions,” Wilbanks said.

Leimbach says the students love and respect “Miss Carla” – “and she returns this affection in droves.”

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