Dyan Branstetter | April 2016

Using the Arts to Build School Community

Bringing the Community Together

One of the best ways to really connect with our students, is to get to know their families. At my elementary school community, we do as much as we can to host events that help our families learn and have fun together, while connecting with staff and other families. For the past two years, we’ve tried to help parents feel more connected with Common Core math by hosting a math night in the fall, where families come to interactive sessions hosted by teachers. We have Dads’ breakfasts, where we serve a hot breakfast to our dads and their children while providing literacy tips, and a guest speaker on ways to strengthen family relationships.

These programs have been very well attended, and we’ve received great feedback. In a K-4 school, we have no band, chorus, or any other musical performing groups other than a parent-run violin for our 2nd graders. While parents are coming to school community for academics, they have no opportunities to visit for the arts.

At a school community improvement meeting earlier this year, I brought up the idea of having an Arts Night. My principal was immediately supportive. She is an advocate for Arts Integration, and it is evident that the community would embrace this since they have been vocal about the decreasing time devoted to our Arts subjects. We set a date for the event, and I started brainstorming for how it would unfold.

How We Did It Through School Community

Just to be clear, I am not an art or music teacher. I thrive on the arts, but I teach 3rd grade. We have a music teacher for the first semester of the year, and an art teacher for the second semester. Both of them travel to four schools in a week. Because of this, it would be next to impossible for them to plan an event like this for each of their buildings. So while they are wonderful resources for me, I try to be respectful of the amount of teachers and students they serve. I also know that we have fabulous teachers in my building who have a lot of extra-curricular talents, but at this time of year we are typically exhausted from putting forth so much effort into our daily teaching, and it is a lot to expect them to host an evening arts session. Therefore, I looked to our surrounding community for help.


At our events, we have found drop-in sessions work very well. This way, families can select sessions that they are most interested in. Our evening will run from 5:30 – 8pm. We will have four sessions between 5:30 and 6:45. At 7:00, we will have a family concert hosted by Steven Courtney, a local musician who was our artist in residence earlier in the year. In addition to the sessions and concert, we will have ongoing interactive activities for families to visit.

Our Sessions:

Originally, I thought I wanted to have an Arts Integration night, with each session titled Arts and Literature, Arts and Science, Arts and Math, etc. There are so many incredible things we could show our families about how the arts can be integrated into our academic subjects to enhance students’ learning. Then I realized, our students rarely get to participate in arts for arts sake. So while a number of our sessions are examples of integration, I tried to purely represent each art form in at least one session. Here is what we have to offer. Because of time, families will be able to choose three of these to attend:

  • West African Drumming: A local drummer will bring djembes and teach families and students West African rhythms and techniques.
  • Musical Instrument Petting Zoo: One of the music teachers from our intermediate school community will bring band and orchestra instruments. Families will get to hear, see and touch the instruments. (Originally, I wanted a small ensemble from our high school to do this, but there were scheduling conflicts)
  • Ceramics Demonstration: The ceramics teacher from our high school will bring students to demonstrate how to throw a pot on a potting wheel.
  • Dance: A local studio will perform a work in progress, and then will teach a short combination to our families to try
  • Theater: A local performing arts studio will host an interactive session on acting/drama basics.
  • Technology: Families will explore some great apps and websites related to the arts.
  • Art in Literature: Families will explore biographies on famous artists, nonfiction books on various art forms, and picture books related to art. They will be set up in our library and families can read together.
  • Art & Math: Families, led by a teacher, will use their knowledge of measurement, fractions, and geometry to create art based on the work of Mondrian. (https://connectcharterschoolblog.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/drawing-fractions-fine-arts-integration/)
  • Art in Nature: A local master gardener will host a session in our school garden related to how we can make paint colors and dyes from plants in the garden.

Ongoing Stations:

In addition to the sessions, these are the events that will take place in the hallways throughout the entire evening.

I am thrilled that we are able to host this evening for families, and I can’t wait for the actual event. As I learn what works and what doesn’t, I will hopefully have the opportunity to revise and prepare for another one next year. Have you considered planning a night to celebrate the arts? I know many of our Arts teachers have probably hosted one. In some school community, it may be an expectation. I know there are many fabulous ideas out there. Share what you’ve done in the comments below!

To help educate parents about the fundamentals of arts education we want them to understand, send them home with EducationCloset’s Arts Integration Student Placemat:


About the Author

Dyan is a fifth grade teacher in a public school district in Lancaster, PA and has over 16 years of classroom experience. With a Masters of Science Education and a passion for dance and music, she strives to integrate the arts into the curriculum whenever possible. Dyan has a background in teaching advanced learners, and is devoted to using project based learning to help her students achieve 21st century learning skills and master the PA Core Standards.