Arts is a vehicle to articulate thoughts and ideas

Jerry Kyle and Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith (Courtesy of Cynthia Waller, U.S. Dept. of ED)

Jerry Kyle and Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith (Courtesy of Cynthia Waller, U.S. Dept. of ED)

Over 200 teachers, teaching artists, principals, educators, and advocates met at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on August 7-8 for the International Organization on Arts and Disability (VSA) Conference. VSA was founded in 1974, by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, sister of President John F. Kennedy. Ambassador Smith showed her continued support Jerry Kyle and Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith (Courtesy of Cynthia Waller, U.S. Dept. of ED)[/caption]of VSA and the conference by attending a special luncheon on the first day. As a baby-boomer, I must admit that I was excited to not only have an opportunity to meet a member of the Kennedy family that has served our country for decades, but also to experience the passion that Ambassador Smith has for the mission of VSA. At age 85, she is still advocating for the importance of the arts in special education.

The theme of this year’s conference was Intersections: Arts and Special Education. The desire of the conference planners was to provide a place where two or more things would intersect: participants intersecting with their colleagues –old and new; art teachers intersecting with special education teachers; practitioners intersecting with researchers; visual educators intersecting with performing arts educators; and many other intersections of the field.

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The Arts in Early Learning: From the Classroom to the State of the Union

When President Obama announced his universal pre-K initiative during the State of the Union Address this past Feb. 12th, a preschool educator was listening from a very coveted vantage point: a couple of seats away from First Lady Michelle Obama in the House of Representatives chamber. Susan Bumgarner teaches four-year-olds at Wilson Arts Integration Elementary School in Oklahoma City. The school participates in the Kennedy Center’s Partners in Education program.

Since 1995, Susan and the other teachers at Wilson have attended professional learning programs sponsored in partnership with the Black Liberated Arts Center, Inc. The Kennedy Center program is a network of nearly 100 arts organizations and their neighboring school districts in more than 40 states that “partner” in offering professional development for teachers and teaching artists. The Kennedy Center program also offers a roster of trained teaching artists to support the Partners in Education sites.

Also offered by the Kennedy Center are national learning institutes on arts integration, online and traditional curricular and instructional resources and valuable lesson plans. Support for its programs is provided in part by the Office of Innovation and Improvement through the Arts in Education National Program grant.

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A New Approach to Learning that’s Better Designed for Our Times

“In order to provide the best education in the world again, we must develop educational opportunities and resources that excite and prepare all our students,” is how Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sees the challenge for the teachers, school leaders, academics, advocates, and entrepreneurs who attended the Reimagining Education: Empowering Learners in a Connected World conference on May 28-29, in Washington, D.C.

Co-hosted by the Department of Education and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the convening brought together participants from many different sectors to think about and make recommendations for a future in which the latest technologies are available and are an integral part of personalized learning experiences for all students, as well as helping to deliver a major upgrade in teacher professional development and the advanced instructional tools they need. Technology alone won’t solve the challenges the U.S. must meet to be a world leader again in elementary and secondary education, but, as Secretary Duncan noted, “We cannot succeed without it.”

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Teaching American History Program Participants Receive National Honor

The more than 85,000 participants in OII’s Teaching American History Program are winners of the 2013 Friend of History Award from the Organization of American Historians (OAH). The award, which is given in recognition of outstanding support for historical research or the public presentation of American history, was presented to two representatives of the TAH program at OAH’s 106th annual conference on April 13.

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The Arts Matter — in March and Throughout the Year

More than 4,000 art educators gathered in Fort Worth, Texas, early this month to “draw connections to their communities” — the theme of this year’s annual National Art Education Association (NAEA) conference. And what a great way for these P-12 teachers of art, along with museum educators; university professors of art education; and school-, district-, and state-level arts and education administrators to also kick-off the month during which all the arts are recognized for their importance to a well-rounded education — Dance in the Schools MonthMusic in Our Schools MonthTheatre in Our Schools Month, and Youth Art Month.

There was no question what mattered in Fort Worth during the recent NAEA conference. (Photo courtesy of NAEA and Seth Freeman Photography)

There was no question what mattered in Fort Worth during the recent NAEA conference. (Photo courtesy of NAEA and Seth Freeman Photography)

In Fort Worth, one phrase — ART MATTERS! — became the mantra of the conference. It was emblazoned on tee shirts, tote bags, and, especially for this group, aprons for the studio art room. It was also on banners attached to light posts throughout the downtown, a great affirmation of Fort Worth’s world-class commitment to the arts — witness the Amon Carter and Kimball Art Museums and the Bass Performance Hall, to name only a few — as well as a sign to let locals know that NAEA was in the house.

NAEA President F. Robert Sabol, in the opening session, used the rhetorical device of entreating his audience to respond to each of a long list of reasons why the arts are important in the education and lives of young people; the response was “ART MATTERS!” The most enthusiastic response came after he cited former NAEA president Elliot Eisner’s “10 Lessons the Arts Teach,” a must-have resource for any serious arts education advocate.

The NAEA attendees, representing virtually every state and the District of Columbia, as well as more than a dozen other countries, took advantage of more than 1,000 professional development opportunities, some as plenary sessions with renowned artists such as Jesús Moroles, whose monumental granite sculptures are featured at CBS Plaza in New York, the White House, and the Smithsonian Institute. There were also Super Sessions, focusing on hot topics such as the Next Generation Arts Standards and connecting with community resources like museums, performing arts centers, and libraries.

One Super Session examined three Texas models of community partnerships, two of them — Dallas and Houston — supported currently or in the past by Office of Innovation and Improvement grants. Big Thought, a past grantee of the Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination (AEMDD) program, facilitates the efforts of more than 100 community cultural partners that believe in the power of imagination, creativity, and innovation to change the way children learn. Its Thriving Minds program promotes creative thinking, project-based learning, and experimentation, changing the way Dallas and its public schools think about educating youth for the 21st century.

With a 2011 grant award from the Professional Development for Arts Educators program, Houston Arts Partners is collaborating with the grantee, Houston Independent School District, and other local cultural partners to implement and evaluate CAPP, a unique professional development project designed to put the arts at the core of every school and promote a college-bound culture in Houston’s middle and high schools.

Another former AEMDD grantee, the University of New Hampshire, shared evaluation findings and a range of instructional and professional development resources resulting from its art and literacy project, “Picturing Writing: Fostering Literacy Through Art and Image-Making Within the Writing Process.” OII support helped to develop, pilot, and rigorously evaluate an elementary-grades approach to giving children visual and kinesthetic as well as verbal modes of thinking as they master the writing process. Session participants viewed a DVD that documented the picture-writing process in several New Hampshire schools along with evidence of students using the picture-writing process outperforming peers on reading assessments. Click here to see how two schools used picture-writing to bridge cultures and learning styles, helping ELL and newly immigrant students to appreciate and celebrate diversity.

The inherent connections between the visual arts and literacy are the point of this year’s Youth Art Month observance in Maryland’s Howard County Schools. (Photo courtesy of the Visual Arts Office, Howard County Public Schools)

The inherent connections between the visual arts and literacy are the point of this year’s Youth Art Month observance in Maryland’s Howard County Schools. (Photo courtesy of the Visual Arts Office, Howard County Public Schools)

I returned from the conference ready to write this blog and also continue to see how the ARTS MATTER to the students we serve. And just a week later, the Howard County (Md.) Schools opened its Youth Art Month exhibit, “The Visual Storyteller: The Narrative in Art,” at the local arts council’s gallery. The show’s a great way to see not only the skills that students are acquiring in visual arts, but also how the arts are a natural part of the new Common Core State Standards. Rather than pigeonholing literacy to the silo of English language arts, students are crossing over academic boundaries to express themselves in ways that connect with others, inspire their creativity, and prepare them for a world that increasingly communicates in words, sounds, and images. Or, as the kids would say, “it’s all good.”

Doug Herbert is a special assistant in the Office of Innovation and Improvement and works on issues of national arts education policy and practice.

Teaching American History Participant Named National History Teacher of the Year

Students in Stacy Hoeflich’s fourth-grade classroom at John Adams Elementary School in Alexandria, Va., don’t just learn American history, they live it through encounters with primary sources and historical reenactors, participation in “Colonial Day” fairs, field trips to historical sites, operas about historical figures such as George Mason and Thomas Jefferson that are written and performed by the students, and more. Ms. Hoeflich’s efforts were recognized last month by the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History, which awarded her the prestigious 2011 National History Teacher of the Year Award. Co-sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute, HISTORY®, and Preserve America, the award was presented in a ceremony at the Frederick Douglass Academy in New York City and is accompanied by a $10,000 cash prize.

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Department Awards $6.6 Million Grant to Support Arts Education

(September 19, 2012) The U.S. Department of Education today awarded a grant of $6,640,000 to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to implement and expand its efforts in arts education and arts integration at the national level. Beginning with the first year of a three-year program, this grant will allow all children access to the life-changing benefits of an arts education.

“The study of the arts can significantly boost student achievement, reduce discipline problems, and increase the odds that students will go on to graduate from college,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Arts education is essential to stimulating the creativity and innovation that will prove critical to young Americans competing in a knowledge-based, global economy.”

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DREAM: Integrating the Arts to Increase Reading Proficiency

Students sit on the floor, attentively listening as the storyteller reads aloud. Several hands shoot up, without further prompting. Students took on the various roles in the story, dramatizing what they were reading and now they are talking about how acting out the story helped them feel the narrative and understand it better. Thoughtful answers to questions are given, prompting more discussion.

This is not just a teacher’s dream, but a real DREAM — the Developing Reading Education with Arts Methods (DREAM) project. Funded through the Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination Grant Program (AEMDD) in OII, the four-year project uses visual arts and theater to teach students about reading and to improve how they read.

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Drama and Theatre Educators Are Ready for the Next Act

AATE past presidents

AATE past presidents reflected on 25 years of efforts to strengthen the role of drama and theatre in schools and the lives of children and youth in a special conference session. Pictured (front row, left to right) are Judith Kase-Cooper, Orlin Corey, Janet Rubin, Joe Juliano and (back row, left to right) Harold Oaks, Coleman Jennings, Joan Lazarus, Betsy Quinn, Kim Alan Wheetley. AATE Past President Rives Collins, not pictured, moderated the discussion. (photo courtesy of the Child Drama Collection, Arizona State University, Tempe, Az.)

The theme of this year’s American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE) conference was “Looking Back and Charging Ahead.” On the one hand, the nearly 400 conference attendees recently gathered in Lexington, Ky., to celebrate the 25 years AATE has served its membership of teachers and teaching artists, postsecondary educators and researchers, youth theatre companies, playwrights, and advocates. The “looking back” portion included a special session at which a number of the association’s past presidents and other leaders shared stories of the quarter-century-long effort to keep the light shining on the importance of drama and theatre for children and youth.

By the time I arrived on the second day of the conference, the emphasis had shifted to the present and future. My task was to share the recent findings of a nationwide survey of the conditions of arts education, one that also offered comparisons of those conditions of arts teaching and learning with data from 1999-2000—prior to the No Child Left Behind Act. My presentation would unfortunately remind attendees that between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of elementary schools offering instruction in drama and theatre had plummeted from 20 percent to four percent. At the secondary level, the drop was less dramatic but sobering just the same—less than half of secondary schools nationwide offered students the opportunity to study theatre. It’s hard to shine a light on what’s not on the stage.

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Ten Years of Arts Integration

In the past 10 years, the Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination (AEMDD) and Professional Development for Art Educators (PDAE) grant programs have unleashed the creative minds of students, deepened their learning experiences in core academic subjects through arts integration, and enhanced the knowledge and skills of teachers to meet high standards in the arts. Both programs emphasize collaborations between school districts and non-profit organizations that result in a well-rounded education for all students as well as greater student engagement across the curriculum and increased school attendance by both students and teachers. In addition, AEMDD projects, using rigorous evaluation measures, have documented gains in academic achievement by students involved in arts-integrated teaching and learning compared to their peers.

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