2022 Grants Challenge

Changing students’ lives and building stronger communities

Idea by Benkadi

Benkadi delivers unique West African drum, dance and culture programs to grade schools of economic and social need in Los Angeles. Benkadi delivers research supported social and emotional learning; improved mental and physical well-being; and greater cultural understanding for students of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. LA2050 support will deliver 5400 hours of student impact and allow Benkadi to deliver its world class educators, instruments and curriculum to two more schools for an entire year.


What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

K-12 STEAM Education

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

Central LA

East LA

San Gabriel Valley

San Fernando Valley

South LA

West LA

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

The ongoing pandemic makes the need to improve student mental and physical well being urgent. The challenges of providing quality arts education in schools are long standing and increase disproportionately the lower the income of the community served. They will only increase in this time of falling attendances and economic downturn. The impact of arts program participation on students from low income backgrounds is profound - 5x less likely to drop out, 4x more likely to receive a bachelor's degree, 30% more inclined to pursue a profession, according to California Alliance for Arts Education data. In the context of youth arts programs LA needs to increase the diversity of represented cultures and backgrounds and deliver content accessible and appealing to all students. When messages of fear and exclusion are everywhere the need for greater exposure to positive cultural experiences and increasing understanding, and empathy for others is urgent.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

We provide African drum, dance and culture education to students in underserved areas in Los Angeles. Classes are taught by world class, 1st generation African instructors using custom curriculum aligned with core standards. As well as in person instruction, we provide custom written materials and access to videos for practice outside of school. Benkadi is structured as a once-a-week, in-schedule arts program. In each class, students explore 4-5 drum rhythms and dances per semester, and learn about the history and culture of the countries where the rhythms originate. Benkadi is: Relatable: African rhythm is at the heart of popular music and is relatable for young people which translates into more active engagement. Accessible: a very low barrier-to-entry activity compared to more traditional western art forms and is accessible for students of all ages, abilities, proficiencies. Good for Mental Health: drum and dance is proven to have positive impacts on mental health and reducing anxiety and depression. Our classes get people moving and are fun. Increasing Cultural Awareness: Benkadi promotes awareness of African arts, culture and heritage. A full LA2050 grant would provide a weekly 1 hour class for 25 students in each of 3 grades for a full school year in 2 schools. This is 5,400 hours of student impact and 432 hours of paid support to educators with limited opportunities to share their wealth of knowledge.

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

In the short term this grant will deliver quality social emotional leanings, improvements in mental and physical well being and create greater understanding and empathy in students leading to better individual student outcomes irrespective of ability, age and background. The program also supports world class educators living in our community and enables them to continue to share their unique skills. It will help build stronger communities. What we do is backed by scientific research showing that regular rhythmic music and dance practice has many positive mental and physical impacts that extend beyond the classrooms and endure in the students’ lives generally. In the longer term it will give the program greater exposure, further track record of successful outcomes and enable us to raise more support and serve more students and communities in LA County. The Benkadi program has been built from inception to scale as funding increases.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

We measure impact through: Observation: A majority of class time requires active participation by the students in both drum and dance. In class testing confirms academic progression with regards to cultural content. Students demonstrate competency and mastery through performances for the school and other communities. Self Reporting: Benkadi gives questionnaires to students, parents and teachers at the beginning and end of semesters for the collection of subjective and self-reported impact statements. Analysis: Benkadi works with the schools to review before and after grade, disciplinary and attendance records to discern any correlations between class participation and impacts on that data. Our data shows increased motivation in students to learn and attend school, increased focus and patience in given academic tasks, and a positive attitude in handling challenges in school. Students, teachers and parents appreciate the mental and physical health impacts on the students.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 154

Indirect Impact: 950