Midtown Raleigh News

Elementary school teams learn how to make arts part of academics

A group of elementary school teachers, principals and parents spent last week singing, painting and writing as they learned to weave together the arts and academics.

During the arts integration workshop held at the Cary Arts Center, 15 teams from Raleigh and beyond experienced lessons the way their students would, as a teaching artist explained how the lesson had been constructed.

In one class, the participants learned a traditional Indian song and discussed how the experience of learning the song could convey the themes of a social studies lesson about world cultures. In another, they took photos and wrote poems based on them, the foundation for a language arts lesson.

The key to arts integration, say the organizers of the workshop, is not just to sing a song or paint or dance and then switch to a standard lesson but to make sure students truly are learning about a core subject area while engaged in an art form.

The arts are a way to make learning exciting for students, especially those who may struggle to learn in a traditional classroom setting, said Mimi Herman, a writer who organizes the workshop with the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County.

“You can use a strength to teach a weakness,” she said.

By teaching a whole team of participants about arts integration, the organizers hope to spread the idea throughout a school.

“Our idea is to transform the school by infusing it into key players,” Herman said.

Andra Willis, a parent at Jeffreys Grove Elementary School off Creedmoor Road, said that one of the most powerful aspects of the institute is the excitement of participating in a lesson and seeing how it enhances her own understanding of a subject.

“As you’re experiencing it, you want to take it back,” she said.

The first-come, first-served workshop has been held since 2006 and has both beginning and advanced levels. Many participants choose to return each year for more ideas and as a refresher on arts integration.

Gay Barnes, the music teacher at Jeffreys Grove, has been to the workshop many times. She said that each year it reminds her that the arts and academic subjects don’t have to be taught in silos. And the proof of the concept’s success is in the changes she sees in students who latch onto an art form and become better-behaved, more enthusiastic learners overall.

“When they’re successful in one area, it makes them feel better about themselves, and they can be successful in another area,” she said.

At the end of the workshop, the participants leave with lesson plans they can use, and new schools also receive a follow-up visit that includes coaching on the arts integration techniques.