(CNN)Sumner High School, the first Black high school west of the Mississippi River, was once a key landmark in its community.
But in January, St. Louis Public Schools announced it would be closing a number of schools in the district where enrollment has fallen in an effort to save money. Sumner High School — which has faced declining enrollment, attendance and grade point averages — was among them.
On Tuesday, though, there was a beam of hope. Kelvin Adams, superintendent of the district, proposed a plan to the St. Louis School Board that would keep Sumner open for at least three more years — by shifting the focus of the school to arts and activism.
“This is an arts-integration kind of program, where it becomes part of the every day environment,” Adams said Tuesday during the school board meeting. “It’s much more around (the students) becoming aware of the arts programs that are already available in the city of St. Louis, and hopefully these programs will incentivize kids to come to the school, but more importantly to increase their academics and attendance as well.”
Situated in the then-thriving Black neighborhood of The Ville in St. Louis, Sumner’s alumni list is legendary, boasting the likes of Chuck Berry, Tina Turner and even Arthur Ashe.
And though parents and other community members protested the closing of all the schools, Sumner’s rich history made its potential loss especially painful, particularly as the neighborhood around it, The Ville, has seen its population drop, reported CNN affiliate KSDK.
“We maintain a relationship with this school because it is the heart of our community transcending the single function of secondary education,” wrote Julia Allen, vice chairperson of 4theVille, an organization dedicated to remembering and restoring the Ville.
“Strong schools are the backbones of strong communities,” she wrote in the statement, posted on 4theVille’s website. “If you remove the schools, you eliminate that possibility.”
Now, arts may save it from having to close its doors for good — at least until 2024.
In his presentation, Adams cited a number of studies that showed students who take arts courses have slightly higher GPAs in math and higher GPAs overall. And students with high levels of arts engagement are more likely to aspire to and enroll in college, he said. Displinary issues also tend to decrease.
The new program would develop four new pathways for students, in music, dance, art and activism.
The school isn’t becoming an art school, though, just immersing students in the art, Adams explained. And local community groups have already gotten involved.
The school board voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of the proposal, securing the schools future however temporarily.
Advocates for the school are also attempting to designate Sumner has a national landmark by 2024.