During a recent appearance at the Kimmel Center, Broadway superstar and Philadelphia native Leslie Odom Jr. said that his fifth-grade history teacher introduced him to the performing arts. Frances Taylor signed him up for creative writing classes and oratorical contests while he was a student at Masterman School. Taylor planted a seed for Odom's performing career, and this year he won the Tony Award for Best Actor in the hit musical Hamilton.

The future is full of possibilities for Odom, yet his "a-ha moment" with the arts happened right here in a Philadelphia classroom, and he was able to hone his skills through experiences with both Philadanco and Philadelphia's Freedom Theater.

Arts and cultural organizations have a responsibility to provide teachers with the keys to unlock learning potential in our children. Teachers can provide students those "a-ha moments," by carving out precious time from their busy class schedules to expose students to the arts. This is one reason the Kimmel Center is excited to announce a new teacher appreciation program in partnership with the School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. The program is fueled by school principals, who nominate exceptional educators to receive free tickets for performances on our campus. Additionally, educators can access deeply discounted tickets to Kimmel Center programs and events. Our goal is to expose more teachers to Kimmel Center resources, which can be invaluable learning tools in their classrooms.

Art and music classes are usually the first casualties when the budget axe falls. Classrooms void of creativity put our children at risk of not being able to solve complex problems or compete in a global economy. Art and music should be core subjects. They can enhance reading, math, and the sciences. In fact, a recent study by the National Endowment for the Arts found that children who are exposed to the arts have better academic success, set higher career goals for themselves, and grow to become more civically engaged adults.

Music has been proven to improve math and reading skills, and promote creativity, social development, and self-worth. In addition, music also helps high-risk and dropout students stay in school. When the arts are cut from classrooms, cultural organizations have the responsibility to span the gap. However, we rely on the support of corporations and private donors to make the arts more accessible.

The Kimmel Center is leading by example - providing arts education classes, workshops, and events that are either free or deeply discounted. As the region's most impactful performing arts center, the core of our mission is to provide vital arts education and community programming to broad and diverse communities in the region. This year, we have nearly doubled the number of arts education offerings with 10 distinct programs. They cater to students of all ages and skill levels and are designed to cultivate arts lovers, world leaders, and the performers of the future. With everything from afterschool programs and in-class visits, to student matinees and summer intensives, we work with teachers to align curriculum to their needs.

The Kimmel Center's work in education will be enhanced through our new partnership with the University of the Arts, as well as through the work of our eight resident companies: the Philadelphia Orchestra, Opera Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Ballet, the Philly POPS, Philadanco, the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, and Curtis Institute of Music.

Dozens of other arts and cultural organizations also provide invaluable arts education opportunities in the area. Just last month, more than 50 of these entities gathered at the Kimmel Center for the 14th annual Arts Education Fair. Hosted in partnership with Creative Philadelphia and the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, this event provided educators a great opportunity to discover new and innovative methods to incorporate the arts into their lesson plans.

The arts are not a luxury, but they are rapidly disappearing from our students' academic experience. It is the responsibility of the public and private sectors to get involved and to support their local arts institutions that are dutifully filling the gap. Who knows? We may have the next Leslie Odom Jr. in a Philadelphia classroom waiting to discover his or her "a-ha moment."

Anne Ewers is president and CEO of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts (www.kimmelcenter.org). president@kimmelcenter.org