Thousands of people are expected to attend the 52nd New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival April 28-May 7. But it’s not only adults who will have the opportunity to enjoy the music, food and culture at the event. Each year, Jazz Fest holds a Kids Day in which students at schools in the Greater New Orleans area spend a school day attending the festival. 

The Jazz Fest Kids Day program is for students in fourth through eighth grade, mostly ages 9 to 14 years old.

Before the gates open to the public on May 4, students from 15 schools including Hynes, Einstein Charter Schools, Holy Cross, and St. Mary’s Academy, will immerse themselves in their hometown’s culture at no cost to them. Students will be able to walk the festival grounds and experience a variety of activities and cultural exhibitions. Each school is expected to bring 100 students. 

Jazz Fest has been hosting its Kids Day program since 1999, Dana Perry, coordinator of Jazz Fest Kids Day, said. 

New Orleans-area students line up to enter Jazz Fest. The first Jazz Fest Kids Day was held in 1999. Credit: New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

“We wanted to give back and [have] an outreach opportunity for the kids of New Orleans to be able to attend,” Perry said. “So we came up with this concept of allowing the kids to experience a field trip day at the fest, where they come out, roam around and enjoy themselves just like everyone else that attends.”

This year, students will experience the food, music and culture of Puerto Rico, which will be spotlighted in the Cultural Exchange Pavilion. There will be live performances from 12 bands featuring Puerto Rican bomba, salsa and reggaeton rhythms, as well as parades and photo exhibits.

Students will also be able to make baskets, draw with charcoal or paint sculptures in the Congo Square African Marketplace. And in the Louisiana Folklife Village, students can participate in making Mardi Gras floats or creating Mardi Gras masks.

“I believe it is important for our students to experience, to have this amazing cultural experience,” said Margo Johnson, assistant principal of Edward Hynes Charter School. “We believe it is important to expose them to these different opportunities, to the different arts, music, food and the sights and sounds that come along with Jazz Fest.”

Hundreds of students gather to watch a show during Jazz Fest Kids Day in 2019. Jazz Fest has been hosting students from area schools on its Kids Day since 1999. Credit: New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

Principal Amy Henley, at Einstein Charter School’s Sherwood Forest Elementary, remembers her first time at Jazz Fest in 2010. She had just moved to New Orleans from Jackson, Mississippi the year before. Henley had set up her chair to watch the performances and instantly became friends with the person next to her. She wants her students to experience “that sense of community and the camaraderie of what it looks like when a city comes together to put on something fun and festive.”

“So the fact that we have the opportunity to give that experience to some of our students, I’m really excited for,” Henley said.

For many youth, this will be their first time attending Jazz Fest and many children will only be able to experience the festival during the Kids Day program, Perry said. 

“It is just a legacy that, as long as the festival is a staple in the community,  [kids] will be part of [it],” Perry said.

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New Orleans native Nigell Moses graduated summa cum laude from Xavier University of Louisiana with a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication. She is a published contributing writer, with stories in The...