BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — New York Yankees legend and Latin Grammy nominee Bernie Williams visited Tisdale School in Bridgeport Monday, jamming with students in the music room and helping to donate $8,000 to enhance arts instruction.
The four-time World Series champ, a school mentor through the national Turnaround Arts program, told students he loved playing baseball, but his passion remains music.
“The arts and music made me who I am today,” said the guitarist.
To that end, the former centerfielder has returned to Manhattan School of Music full time and will graduate with a degree in jazz performance this spring.
“I realized without my education I was not going to go as far as I wanted to go,” he told a class of students. “Raise your hand if you're going to go to college.”
Dozens of hands shot up.
Williams, who lives in New Fairfield and White Plains, joined Mary Luehrsen, executive director of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), for the school visit. Luehrsen presented to school with a check for $8,000 to go toward musical instruments and equipment.
Schools apply for the NAMM grants, which have been presented to 49 schools nationwide.
“They need to show a real commitment to growing a music education program,” she said. “It has to be a core curriculum subject area, not just an extra.”
The Turnaround Arts mentor program grew out of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. It empowers high-need schools with arts resources, training and integration into other subject areas as a strategy to address broader school challenges.
It also brings inspirational figures such as Williams into schools like Tisdale, which will present its first-ever musical, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” this spring.
“He is an inspiration to our students, as he continues his education and tells our students to work hard in school every day,” said Principal Charmaine Worthy.
Tisdale School is one of five Turnaround schools in Bridgeport. Research shows increases in reading and math scores, an increase in attendance and a decrease in suspensions after a few years of participation in Turnaround Arts.
Tisdale School has seen growth in student and parent participation in the arts, said Tania Kelley, the school district’s director of arts. Williams, who attended a high school for performing arts in his native Puerto Rico, told the children he hopes to never stop learning and growing.
“If you have all the money in the world,” he said, “you still need your mind.”
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