At the beginning of the 2018-19 school calendar year, A.J. Crocker established her arts-based business, West End Creative Arts, with a mission to offer arts education to local youth in the Norwood area. After what she has said was a successful first semester, new programs are now underway. 

Auditions for “Aladdin Kids” are in order. The performance is presented by the group Wide Sky Arts Collective, formerly Arts, Community & Education of Norwood. The auditions happen this week, Jan. 7-11, at the Oliver House (next to the Livery) from 4 to 6 p.m. 

Crocker said she is encouraging local youth in grades five to 10 to try out for the leading the roles of the production, including Jasmine, Jafar, Iago and Aladdin.

She said those in grades first through eighth can also register as part of the “ensemble,” and no audition is required. 

And, for the management of the production, three internship opportunities are available for “motivated” high school students. She said anyone interested in interning with Crocker should contact her directly by emailing anjulielizabeth@gmail.com, or by visiting her space on Grand Avenue, next to Uptown Salon. 

The Norwood School District is on the four-day week calendar plan as of this year. Crocker has made many of her activities available for local youth on Fridays to help create structure. “Aladdin Kids” will rehearse every Friday when school is not in session, beginning Jan. 18 and continuing through March 22. 

Performances will be held April 3-6.

Additionally, West End Creative Arts will have its other arts-based programming beginning this week, too. Crocker has created a full schedule, which is available online at westend-arts.com/schedule?fbclid=IwAR25VATF1jOWDe3iTeepzT_5PtPEdpzMbcskoHV4oqSz7_ECSETC47lUAz4.

She’s hosting classes like Teen Art (a comic booksprogram) and the Teen Uke Jam Session, which is ukulele instruction. 

“I'd love to push the teen class opportunities,” she said.

Other classes include choir, after-school art, and also instrument making. 

At the same time, Crocker has available time scheduled weekly for private instruction, for either voice or other musical instrument instruction: piano, guitar or ukelele. 

She’s also helping to teach music at Norwood Elementary School part-time. This semester, she’s excited about introducing the kids to ukulele. 

According to her, one local community member recently donated “a large sum” of money to help the school purchase 10 ukuleles. Crocker said she plans to order the instruments this month, so that all students in grades K-5 will receive ukulele lessons this spring — something she said she is enthusiastic about. 

According to her, music education in public schools is important. 

“It is a highly effective way to build community, increase coordination, and improve pattern recognition and memorization skills,” Crocker said. “It builds grit by encouraging students to keep improving a skill they may not master right away. Music instruction develops the left side of the brain to improve language and reasoning skills. Studies also show that students who have music education are less likely to abuse substances later in life and have stronger empathy towards others.”

She added the work is also fun. 

Local parent Regan Synder said she is supportive of Crocker’s work in both the schools and in West End Creative Arts. She said the recent winter performance, made of Norwood children, was impressive. 

Snyder said though the four-day week may be controversial in the town with some families, she said the arts-based programming made available on Fridays is important for local kids. 

“What A.J. is doing with these kids on Fridays is special and would never have happened if the school stayed with a five-day school week,” she said.