Deirdre Moore | October 2014

Using All the Puzzle Pieces: A Multi-Pronged Approach to Arts Education

My Multi-Pronged Approach to Arts Education

I’ve heard the buzz.  I’ve heard the chatter.  There are arts teachers out there concerned that with Arts Integration more widely accepted as an effective way to educate our children that the “powers that be” will think direct arts education instruction. And, art for art’s sake, will disappear in our schools.  I understand the fear.  When budgets get cut, the arts education go first. Anything seeming like a financial shortcut may be attractive to administrators trying to stretch their budgets.  In such a climate as this, it’s incredibly refreshing to encounter a program that seems to get it.  I am lucky enough to be working in a Turnaround Arts Partner school, and the people who created Turnaround Arts Education seems to get it.

The Turnaround Arts Program

If you’ve not heard of it, the Turnaround Arts program is an initiative of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.  It started with just 8 pilot schools nationwide and now it has over 30 schools involved in the program.  Schools are selected based on a number of criteria including high poverty and low performance.  The idea is that by providing students with quality arts instruction in combination with training and supporting classroom teachers in arts education integration. In addition to, partnering with community arts education and organizations, teaching artists this idea of schools turning around academically. Thus, helping close the achievement gap and become exciting and inspiring centers of learning.

At its foundation this initiative seems to acknowledge the idea that “it takes a village.”  In its literature it delineates a number of “pillars” that need to work together to raise up the students and the staff and make them all that they can be, to make the program as successful as it can be.  Because this is an initiative and not a grant the schools do not receive financial support and, as we know, finding money to fund great ideas can be challenging, but I am still grateful that the initiative perpetuates the understanding that just having an art class or just having arts integration is not enough to really impact our children.

The students must have that direct arts education instruction.

So they see how arts integrate with one another, and with other curriculum. For them to have arts experiences outside of the school at museums and performances. And, to work with professional artists in their community to inspire and support the artwork of the students.  The community must be invited in to join in the work. Celebrating the work, enjoying performances, and the art exhibits put on by the students.

Turnaround Arts not only provides this framework for the partner schools but it provides training and supplies (like art materials and instruments) supporting the schools in their work.  As a bonus, Turnaround Arts connects each of its partner schools with a known artist serving as an artistic mentor to the school. This energizes and inspires teachers and students. All while, helping engage parents and others in the community.

Although we are only in the beginning stages of this process, I am excited by the possibilities.  I hope all schools who have partnered with Turnaround Arts can manage to build up all the “pillars”. I hope they see the turnaround in achievement and engagement the program founded itself on.  The more schools to adopt a multi-pronged approach to harnessing the power of the arts with great effect, the more those “powers that be” will understand there are no shortcuts and that Arts Integration without arts instruction is trying to complete a puzzle without all the pieces.

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.