Researchers have long found that the arts can be key tools for educators striving to enrich student learning experiences and increase academic achievement.
McKinley Elementary School is attempting to take those theories a step further, by working to create a program that will integrate the visual, musical and performing arts into everyday classroom situations.
Last week McKinley officials presented their vision for incorporating the arts into all components of the school’s instructional program, named The Kaleidoscope Project, to the School Board. If approved by the School Board next Thursday, McKinley will be able to expand its partnership with professional theaters, broaden after-school arts courses and establish an artist-in-residence for the upcoming school year.
“We will reach each student through engaging activities, by using music, drama, dance and the visual arts in conjunction with traditional teaching strategies,” Kris Keller, a music teacher at McKinley, told the School Board.
McKinley is submitting the proposal as part of the school systems “exemplary projects” initiative, which allows each school to design an academic program specifically geared toward its unique strengths and needs.
The school is known countywide for its strong arts and music departments, and the original musicals students perform each year with the aid of the Educational Theatre Company. Expanding the role of the arts in the school seemed a natural fit, McKinley officials said.
“We already have students at each grade level performing, so the staff, teachers and parents are very excited to capitalize on the what we have,” said Principal Patricia Anderson.
The arts are an important way to reach students who might not respond as well to linguistic and mathematical teaching techniques, said Minnietom Meyer, a McKinley parent. McKinley officials believe implementing the arts in social studies, math and science classes will help improve student comprehension and teach them to think more critically.
For example, while a class reads a novel, the English teacher can have the students construct short plays and write songs based on the main characters and plot.
“Learning through songs and skits makes subjects they might not be interested in more palatable,” said Kate Mesches, McKinley’s PTA President. “It makes more of an impression and goes a long way toward accomplishing our academic goals.”
The Kaleidoscope project will also help decrease the achievement gap by ensuring that all students are exposed to the arts, Anderson said.
“The arts can be a way to enhance creativity in high academic achievers and stimulate the learning process in students who might otherwise be left behind,” Anderson said.
If the program is approved, there will be funds to expand the partnership with the Education Theatre Company, adding a fall musical as well as enrichment offerings for younger students.
The school is interested in broadening after-school programs in dance, music and the visual arts. The new funds would provide buses and free classes for the students, and enable McKinley to develop a relationship with The Levine School of Music.
An artist-in-residence would be hired to better facilitate the program, and there would be more opportunities for volunteers and parents to get involved.
The project’s proposed budget includes funding for staff development classes in the arts through the Kennedy Center, as well as new instructional materials and a new lights and sound system for the school auditorium.
Teachers and school officials are considering ways to further integrate the arts into the daily student experience, including developing a literary magazine and broadcasting student poetry and music during the morning news segments.
“I hope all of our children have an appreciation for the arts when they leave McKinley, and find a niche that they enjoy and can pursue later in life,” Mesches said.