04/10/2014 03:25 pm ET Updated Jun 10, 2014

The Best Way to Arm and Engage Kids Is With Arts

He was a fighter, this one, I could see it in his eyes.

Bored easily, passionate when lit.

When I see them, this kind of human, I know I need to step it up.

"Have you ever read The Little Prince?" I asked. Antoine de Saint-Exupery's classic tale is a brilliant one I thought he could benefit from.

"No," he said.

He had just come to the school, back home with his mother from foster care, and the teacher said she hadn't gotten to know him yet. As a literacy tutor, in once a week, my regular student absent, I had the chance to figure. And it was clear: he was gifted, advanced well beyond the fourth grade in reading and general comprehension. Very, very smart.

The next week, this boy and my regular tutee, a beautiful bright-eyed girl with braids, were magic in combination.

Together, the three of us kept reading The Little Prince. We read other books too, whatever interested them.

One day, as we read, I could see their eyes start to wander, their hands start to fidget.

"OK," I said, closing the book. "This isn't class. I don't have to make you do things you don't want to do. Clearly there's something you guys would rather be doing right now, so what is it?"

His eyes lit up. "I want to rap!" he said.

She swayed her hips and snapped her fingers. "I want to dance!"

"Great!" I said, "Let's do it!"

They had written down words they didn't know from our reading, and their definitions in their notebooks:

Infinity. Collaboration. Flawless. Hub.

He immediately started rapping them in perfect rhythm.

Infinity it goes on forever and ever;
Collaboration means working together, together;
Flawless means perfect, I'm perfect
Hub it means I'm the center...

He ran through it once, and when I asked him to do it again, she started harmonizing,

"Forever-er, together-er..."

And, of course -- as she so desired -- she swayed and danced.

They practiced it a number of times, and, finally, I recorded it on my phone. They were amazing, inspired, inspiring. And they were learning.

Something happened, though, and my bright boy, this brilliant light, didn't come back to school. I was sad to hear he hadn't been participating in class, that he'd been disruptive. He left the school, and never came back.

When I brought up-and-coming rapper Dyme-a-Duzin to the school recently, he encouraged the kids to write, to journal, to keep at it, to stay in school. He touched so many that day, bringing them up on stage with him to share their own songs or ones they'd heard, and loved.

I wish my little rapper friend had been there. I did it in homage to him. Wherever he is, I hope he's engaged. I hope his beautiful song sticks with him, and that he remembers his ability to be creative. Artists offer that creativity, that access to the tools of engagement that schools need to provide. Arts is an armor of sorts, and kids need to be armed.

Help us help kids like my friend find the creative things that keep them learning. Help us build up our InspireCorps.

Steph Thompson is the founder and executive director of InspireCorps, a Brooklyn-based resource to link talented NYC artists with public schools. InspireCorps is holding its first annual fundraising Gala, "A Night to Inspire," Friday, May 2nd at Roulette, 509 Atlantic Ave., in Brooklyn. Please visit to buy tickets.