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October 2009
This Month: Preserving the Arts in Tough Budget Times

Too often when districts are facing tight budgets, fine arts programming is the first thing to get sliced from schools. This month’s Teaching in Action focuses on why fine arts programming is both essential and effective for educating today's youth.

From the Field: Anderson Academy
Infuse the Arts, Infuse Engagement

Will classroom instruction and children’s learning improve through the infusion of the arts into the core curricula?

That's exactly what a team from Anderson Academy in Aldine ISD spent the last two years researching, with the support of a Critical Friends Group As Research Team Grant from the Houston A+ Challenge.

Nestled in the Acres Homes community in northwest Houston, Anderson Academy is a 1st through 3rd grade magnet school for fine arts, Montessori and Direct Instruction. Although Anderson has a proud tradition of exposing students to the arts through ancillary classes in drama, art, dance, and violin, the Anderson faculty wanted to explore how they could take their focus on arts from simple enrichment to full-scale infusion in math, science, social studies, and language arts.

The research team, consisting of several teachers and other key staff members, began their inquiry by seeking out information and inspiration from schools that share a focus on the fine arts. They attended events such as an action lab at neighboring Kujawa Elementary in Aldine and the Pine Shadows Fine Arts Collaborative in Spring Branch ISD.

The research team initiated a faculty-wide book study of Arts With the Brain in Mind by Eric Jensen and met regularly to look at student work and share art-infused lessons. Resources for these lessons included the Learning Through Art materials from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, as well as the Crayola Dream-Makers teacher guides.

As part of the action research process, the faculty was encouraged to document their work, collect evidence of changes in practice, and make their findings public. The student journals and teacher reflections that they collected are replete with evidence that the classroom atmosphere improved.

First grade teacher Ms. Houston shares: "Art-integrated lessons have really allowed me to connect with my students. My class began to respond enthusiastically and discussion for whatever subject I was teaching began to deepen. It was awakening to see how my students' focus was undisturbed; behavior became less of a problem and socialization between peers increased." The teachers found that the arts-infused lessons were very engaging and tapped into a broader range of learning styles.

Ms. Hilton describes how one usually reluctant student successfully planned the steps of painting a scene and that observing that process "really gave me a deep insight into there's more there than was coming out in the written or oral assessments."

The students of Anderson Academy have used drama, music, and visual arts to deepen their understanding of everything from literature, to fractions, to the life cycle of the butterfly. Perhaps most importantly, the arts-infused curriculum develops the whole child. One second-grader summed up his appreciation for the arts by writing "When you draw . . . you have this feeling inside you, but inside of me is love and passion."

Article by Donna Reid, with contributions from Lochie Welch.

From the A+ Office: The Arts and Postsecondary Success

Postsecondary success: It's a hot topic across the country, around the state, and at the A+ office. What is one key for moving kids to succeed after high school? Some studies are finding clear evidence that arts programming does make a difference.

Houston A+ Challenge has supported fine arts integration efforts for more than 10 years, helping schools such as Anderson Academy (see above) embed fine arts across the curriculum. Through A+ grants, teams of school leaders have sought out professional development and programming in fine arts from community partners like the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Writers in the School, Young Audiences, the Alley Theatre, MECA, or the Richards Institute. With this professional development and Houston A+ Challenge's Critical Friends Group Coaching Development, schools equip themselves to plan and develop curriculum that embeds the fine arts in all content areas.

The results have been encouraging. Increases in student engagement, parental involvement, teacher collaboration around meaningful work, and student achievement have all been documented by Houston A+ Challenge's network of fine arts integration schools.

Helms Community Learning Center in Houston ISD offers one compelling example. Ask the students of Helms what art has to do with math, and they will begin to tell you about patterns, translations, symmetry and other concepts. Teachers at Helms have utilized the arts to move students from rote memorization of ideas to utilizing key mathematical concepts in artwork. Students analyze and problem solve as they build ways to embed the math into their art, and vice-versa. They communicate in writing by reflecting on their work. And it doesn't stop there -- students know that their work will be displayed at community art events and in some cases sold at auction. A whole-school focus on the arts is moving students to develop essential skills that they will need in the future.

Houston recognizes the fine arts as a vehicle for leading youth on a pathway to success beyond high school, and thus advocates for future programming in the arts. For more information about Houston A+ Challenge's fine arts work and its results, contact Betsy Breier.

From the Headlines

Art = Smart: Not convinced yet? Don't just take our word for it, see what the education world has to say about fine arts programming:

EdWeek Commentary —Arts Ed is Essential: Recently in Education Week, Sandra Ruppert, director of the national Arts Education Partnership, made yet another case for improving fine arts education and integration. Building on years of research, the magazine makes the case that strong arts programming leads to postsecondary success. In a statement not meant to be heavy-handed, but honest, the article comments, "Does it really matter if the performance of 8th grade students on the NAEP arts assessments is mediocre at best, or that significant achievement gaps based on socioeconomics and other characteristics continue to persist?" Ruppert asks. "It matters only if we as a nation are truly serious about reaching the president’s goal of preparing all K-12 students by 2020 to succeed in school, work, and life." Check out the entire commentary here.

Yeah, but not in high schools: Think again. Jane Burke describes how she's meeting success by using dance in her high school chemistry class. Students learn concepts through collaborative dance. Click here to read the full article.

It’s all about the brain: In Tucson, Arizona, the arts are transforming education, and it's all connected to brain-based learning theories. The project, Opening Minds Through the Arts (OMA), is paying off big time. Among results tracked, "teachers in OMA schools did better than their peers on every indicator, including lesson planning and design, arts-integrated instruction, and the creative use of varied learning activities." Read the entire article at Edutopia.

Music and the ELL Student: Researchers are making links in Mankato, Minnesota, between learning to play musical instruments and language acquisition. Larry Scripp, lead researcher on the project, believes this new development in research will catalyze future work in programs related to music and literacy. Article can be found here at the Mankato Free Press.


October 24
Southwest Houston School Choice Forum
10 a.m. to Noon
Westbury United Methodist Church
5200 Willowbend Blvd.

January 14-16, 2010
School Reform Initiative Winter Meeting
Cambridge, MA

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Houston A+ Challenge

2700 Southwest Freeway, Suite B
Houston, TX 77098-4607


Contact Mike Webster,
Teacher Leadership Coach


Houston A+ Challenge's support for teacher leaders is made possible through grants from:

The Brown Foundation

ExxonMobil Foundation

and other supporters