Art has long been recognized as an important part of a well-rounded education — but when it comes down to setting budget priorities, the arts rarely rise to the top. Many public schools saw their visual, performing and musical arts programs cut completely during the last recession, despite the many studies showing that exposure to the arts can help with academics too. A few schools are taking the research to heart, weaving the arts into everything they do and finding that the approach not only boosts academic achievement but also promotes creativity, self-confidence and school pride.
The arts integration experiment at Integrated Arts Academy at H.O. Wheeler (IAA) in Burlington, Vermont, started six years ago as an effort to break up socioeconomic imbalances in the district. Both the elementary schools in Burlington’s North End were failing and both had high levels of poverty (95 percent of IAA students qualified for free and reduced-price lunch), a large refugee population and lots of English-language learners. District leaders began having conversations with community members about turning Wheeler into a magnet school focused on both art and academics.
What does art integration look like? Recently, a fourth-grade lesson on geometry examined the work of the famous Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky. The class talked about his work and then created their own art using angles in the style of Kandinsky. Students had to be able to identify the angles they’d used and point them out in their art.
“Higher analytical thinking and reasoning and student voice fit so well with the arts,” said Bobby Riley, the school’s principal. Teachers are seeing ways to make connections between subjects and watch as students find creative confidence and voice in their expression.
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