Bryant School’s Turnaround Artist, a ‘Natural’
BRIDGEPORT — Johnny ‘NATURAL’ Najera is a composer, musician, music producer and now the Turnaround Artist assigned to Bryant School.
The west side elementary school, which last spring was announced as the district’s sixth school to join the turnaround, was paired with their mentor last week.
If the name doesn’t immediately ring a bell, don’t feel bad. It didn’t to Bryant Principla Victoria Egri, either.
But Egri said she doesn’t mind at all.
“Johnny’s vast musical experiences with many of today’s top artists will help students learn about all facets of music and foster an appreciation for the arts,” said Egri. “We look forward to Johnny’s visits this year to inspire students’ creativity and enrich their learning experiences through the arts.”
Chances are at least some of Bryant students are familiar with Usher. Najera joined Usher on tour as a guitarist, bassist and music director. He has also worked with Britney Spears, Pink, Laty Perry, Selena Gomez, Meghan Trainor, Camila Cabello and Ariana Grande.
He has also laid down guitar tracks for albums by John Legend, Taylor Swift, Snoop Dogg, and Chaka Khan, among others. As a vocal producer, he has worked on albums by Ludacris, Usher, and others.
Currently, Najera currently as creative and live music director for Ariana Grande’s “Sweetener” singles and album promotion on television, promo show, and award show performances.
Originally from El Paso, Texas, Najera taught himself to play the guitar.
Ergi is uncertain when Najera will visit the school but said it probably won’t be until later in the school year.
As a member of the network, Bryant also receives an infusion of arts supplies and will put on a musical in the spring.
Alicia Robinson, the district’s director of performing and visual arts, said she is thrilled to have Johnny “NATURAL” as Bryant’s Turnaround artist.
“While I wasn’t familiar with the name initially, I immediately checked out his website and Instagram and knew he’d be a great addition to the Turnaround Arts Bridgeport family and Turnaround Arts family as a whole,” Robinson said.
In addition to working with many high profile artists, Najera shares the same ethnicity of many Bryant’s 357 students. One quarter of Bryant students are English Language Learners.
“Not only will Bryant students see themselves in Johnny, but they will also see another example of the vast career opportunities in the arts,” Robinson said.
Turnaround Arts started in 2012 with eight schools around the country, including Roosevelt School in Bridgeport. At the time, the program was run by a President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. It is now under the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
So far, the district has been paired with the likes of baseball player turned musician Bernie Williams, designer Tracy Reese, architect Thom Mayne and others. Some students have visited the White House through the program, and have performed in music videos seen on YouTube.
Most Turnaround Arts schools are in urban or rural areas and suffer low test scores. Most see improvement in math and/or reading proficiency and attendance, and have fewer discipline issues after arts is infused into the classroom.
Besides Roosevelt and Bryant, other Bridgeport schools participating are Barnum, Hall, Hallen and Tisdale. Nationwide, there are now 84 schools in 17 states and D.C. participating in the program. So far, the program has impacted more than 56,000 students nationwide.