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Taylor Swift Donation Helps Students Make Their Own High School Musicals

By Amy Zimmer | December 1, 2015 4:40pm
 A donation from pop star Taylor Swift helped the city expand its legendary SING program to 10 schools.
A donation from pop star Taylor Swift helped the city expand its legendary SING program to 10 schools.
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Getty Images/Sascha Steinbach

BROOKLYN — New York City resident and megastar Taylor Swift is giving local kids another reason to adore the singer/songwriter: She’s donated money to the city's Education Department to expand its high school SING program, officials announced Tuesday.

SING gives city students a chance to perform in short musicals that they create from start to finish, including script-writing, casting, choreography, set design, costumes and stage direction.

Swift’s contribution, along with money from the Fund for Public Schools — totaling $122,000 — allowed SING to expand this year to 10 high school campuses that reach 20 schools, including big traditional schools like Bayside High School as well as the small co-located Park Slope Collegiate.

 Midwood's seniors rehearsing for SING on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015.
Midwood's seniors rehearsing for SING on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015.
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Department of Education

The DOE declined to specify how much Swift donated, and the star's reps did not respond to immediate questions. But previous reports from nearly a year ago noted the singer gave $50,000 to city schools for SING from proceeds of her “Welcome to New York” single," and said at the time it would not be a one-time donation.

SING has a deep history in some city high schools. It started in 1947 at Brooklyn’s Midwood High School, and was the subject of a 1989 movie entitled “Sing,” starring Lorraine Bracco as a Brooklyn high school teacher who spearheads her school’s performance. (The movie didn’t quite take off like its counterpart, “Fame,” based on students at the city’s LaGuardia School High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts.)

The 10 new SING participants, selected out of 20 applications, plan to use their performances to build school spirit and foster school identity and cooperation, especially at the co-located schools, DOE officials said. The winning proposals included a SING performance centered on an anti-bullying theme of “respect for all” and one celebrating a school’s 80th anniversary.

“This is a wonderful program for developing passions in the arts and for building school and community spirit,” Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement, noting that it will bring a “new excitement and camaraderie” for the four schools who are spearheading performances at buildings they share with other schools.  

“The SING students are going to gain skills and experience that they can use in college and throughout their lives,” she added.

The schools will receive training and support from Ernest Pysher, who has overseen SING productions at Midwood. He will visit each of the 10 newly selected schools throughout the year, starting as they begin the script writing and casting this month, helping them with their scripts, rehearsals, and production schedules.

The schools will also receive support around the logistics of theater production, including set, lighting and props, from ArtsConnection, a community-based arts partner in the program.

In SING, each grade creates its own short musical and then competes against other grades for best performance. At co-located schools, students will have a new opportunity to mix with their grade-level peers in the many hours of after-school rehearsals.

Jill Bloomberg, principal of Park Slope Collegiate, hoped the performance will help build community as well as highlight students’ talents at the John Jay Campus, which includes disparate schools like hers, a progressive school committed to diversity, to the highly selective Millennium Brooklyn High School and the struggling Secondary School for Journalism.

“SING is a perfect opportunity for the students at the John Jay Campus,” she said, “to collectively strengthen and showcase their theater, dance, music and production skills.”