Hall Pass Tour: Using the Arts to Seed a College-Going Culture

The New York City-based Hall Pass Tour wants to show the West Coast why using the arts works to get kids excited about college.

Seven years ago my sister called to have a heart-to-heart about my oldest niece who was struggling in elementary school. My niece faced repeating a grade and had to undergo a series of tests to diagnose a suspected learning disability. Math and reading comprehension gave her the most trouble, but when it came to the arts, she soared—and no one was tapping into that.

I've met countless students not much different from my niece. I’m sure some of you have as well—students who thrive in the arts and might be able to excel through that outlet, if given the chance. So why not give it to them? Thankfully, from my anger over her situation, passion and action brewed. In 2010, five years after that phone call, I co-founded the Hall Pass Tour, a series of high energy, after-school music concerts for grades K-12 designed to help kids from underserved schools and communities get excited about leveraging higher learning to achieve their dreams.

I've always believed that you can connect with people anywhere in the world in a meaningful way through two mediums: Food and music. The Hall Pass Tour, with its team of eight 20-somethings, connects through the latter and empowers students to take the lead. We show up at a school, set up shop with a full crew and headlining artists, and throw a concert.

What makes the concert a truly valuable experience is that we involve students in the process. Give students the tools to plan and execute and they will follow through. Give them the platform to shine and they'll do so unapologetically. With those two things in mind, we crafted the model for our tour.

Student ambassador teams are chosen to assist with the planning of their concerts and through an audition process, we choose the most talented students—whether they're singers or acrobats— to be co-hosts or opening acts for each show. They set the tone for our headliners who are two college-educated, independent artists.

Every one of our concerts is open to the public and intentionally takes place after work hours so communities can attend and embrace their youth. Outside of our concerts, we facilitate workshops, pep rallies, and other services that help students identify their dreams and give them access to resources to reach those dreams.

In the spring of 2011, we piloted the tour at five schools across New York City. We set out beyond the city in the fall of 2011, stopping at 10 schools in New Jersey, Delaware, and the Adirondack region of New York. Now in our second year, we're focused on expanding to even more schools and community centers nationwide. Last month, we were fortunate enough to take on our biggest event to date; Berea College's GEARUP kick-off for over 5,000 eighth graders from 18 counties in Kentucky.

On Thursday, September 27, 2012, we'll be hosting our first event on the West Coast, an open house at Scratch DJ Academy in Los Angeles. Our goal is to share more about the work we're doing and connect with parents, advocates, educators, community organizers, and administrators who can help us bring the tour to the kids who need us most.

That's where you come in:

1. Register here and come join us this Thursday for our LA open house.

2. Share this post. We want to get the word out about the work we're doing, and we need your help.

3. Even if you're not in Los Angeles, contact us about bringing the tour to you.

If someone had told me seven years ago that I would one day become the co-founder of an education initiative, I would have likely disregarded the notion. Now, using the arts to get students across the nation—students much like my niece—excited about higher education has become my passion. We've come a long way as a team, but we can push the Hall Pass Tour even further with you on board.

via Gage Skidmore / Flickr and nrkbeta / flickr

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