ArtsBridge America is one of many national programs working to bring the arts back into public school classrooms through arts-integrated projects. Visual arts, music, dance, theatre, and media arts are all crucial art forms that children should be able to explore “for arts sake.”
But in the age of teaching for the test, sometimes the only way we can bring programming to the schools is to look at the arts as a means of enhancing learning in other core subjects. It is not always ideal, but some exposure to quality arts programming is better than none. ArtsBridge aims to provide this type of consistent high-quality programming, while having a lasting impact on everyone involved.
The number one priority of ArtsBridge is to provide much-needed, hands-on arts experiences for K–12 students who may not be getting it on a regular basis. The number two priority of the program is to facilitate a unique opportunity for university students, with a specialty in the arts, to work with classroom teachers who are seeking professional support in those areas. This partnership can be incredibly valuable for everyone involved.
University students, or scholars as we like to call them, receive a scholarship for their efforts while they gain valuable teaching experience in the controlled environment of the classroom. They help to build the capacity of the classroom teacher by training them in their art form as they work side by side with the class on a weekly basis over the course of a semester or sometimes an entire school year.
Our ArtsBridge program at the University of Utah has had an emphasis on social justice as we’ve focused primarily on serving Title 1 elementary schools where the need for access to the arts is the greatest. Since the need is great and our resources are limited, we cannot serve all of the schools that would like us to. So we must aim to prepare the classroom teachers to take on similar arts-integrated projects once our scholar is no longer there.
One approach that we’ve taken on that seems to be working well is to work with all of the teachers in a specific grade level. Since they so often work and plan in teams, there can be more of a lasting impact and they can look at the arts project as a signature experience that becomes a new tradition for that grade. The scholars also benefit from working with multiple teachers.
By repeating the same lesson in more than one classroom, they have the opportunity to try different approaches and see what works best. And by working with a team of teachers, which often consists of some veterans and some newbies, they can observe different styles and approaches to classroom management.
One of the most successful integrated programs that we’ve initiated with our teaching teams is our program for Kindergarteners, Reading In Motion (RIM). The mission of RIM is to get every at-risk student reading at or above grade level within the first years of school.
As students begin studying language arts, the RIM curriculum is there to support their development through music and movement. Starting with simple songs that help with letter sounds, the students gradually work towards songs that focus on word segmenting, rhymes, and general fluency. As the program continues, the students add rhythm sticks and other instruments learning basic music skills while also strengthening their reading abilities.
Playing instruments helps support the development of fine motor skills and encourages cooperative group work, while also allowing for individual expression. The kids love the weekly program and classroom teachers often tell us that the students are singing the songs during the week and look forward to the next session.
Each school year ends with a performance for the parents and community. The teachers are thrilled to have the extra support and the scholars gain incredibly valuable teaching experience.
The University of Utah and Utah State University ArtsBridge programs will be holding a training conference in the Reading In Motion kindergarten and first grade curricula on May 10–11 in Salt Lake City. For more information, please check out our website.