WASHINGTON — Michelle Obama on Monday thanked art educators for not only teaching children skills in arts and humanities, but for inspiring them to dream big.

“You light a fire in them,” she said. “You help them grow emotionally and socially. You give kids a spring in their step when they get out of bed each morning. You give them something to look forward to after school each day.”

The first lady presented national arts and humanities awards to 12 after-school programs from across the country and one international program in India. Some of the programs teach dance, music and graphic design.

The White House ceremony included a head-bopping musical performance from the Delta Blues Museum Arts and Education Program Band of Clarksdale, Mississippi, and remarks by Jennifer Guadalupe Gonzalez, 16, of Chicago, who explained how acting in a production at Chicago Shakespeare Theater gave her a boost in confidence.

The first lady encouraged the students to embrace their opportunities in the arts, but to also remember their education is just as important.

“Your education is critical,” she told the youngsters. “Don’t play around with it. It’s the best investment that you’ll make.”

The 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards are hosted by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

The U.S. community-based organizations were chosen from more than 350 nominations and will receive $10,000.