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Teaching and learning with the Arts: Part 1

When teachers at Robinson Elementary School in rural Starksboro, Vt., need to reach children who are struggling academically (and perhaps suffering socially, as well), they long ago learned that by integrating art, drama, writing, dance, song and music throughout the curriculum, even those children who may be withdrawn will, if given opportunity through the arts, blossom into dancers, musicians, painters, writers, singers, and students who enthusiastically participate in classroom life. In geography we were studying different regions of the country, one teacher said. And, as a part of our study, the children and I learned how to perform dances associated with the northeastern region such as jazz in New York City. In no time at all, two of our heretofore reluctant, reticent or bashful learners were dancing and singing their heads off. Later, she said, when those students came up to me and excitedly exclaimed, Did you ever think you would see the two of us dancing and singing like that?I just beamed. Where it all began. Six years ago, when it was decided that Robinson Elementary would weave the arts across its curriculum, everyone, from the school board to the staff, the teachers and the parents, knew that successfully creating such an arts-oriented program would begin, as it does in any school, with the teachers. Not surprisingly, there were some teachers who, while excited about the concept, began to wonder if they had the personal talents and skills needed to incorporate the arts into their own classroom curriculums. Not to worry; it wasnt long before the staff discovered it had been harboring a bevy of enthusiastic teachers with latent artistic talents of their own. Many, in fact, were already accomplished dancers, musicians, painters, writers and singers. Before this, who knew? exclaimed one teacher, with a chuckle. Starksboro is located in a beautiful area, with charming houses tucked into the landscape here and there, plus lovely mountains in the distance and beautiful Lake Champlain only an hour or so to the west. A nice place to live. It is not only a beautiful area, but it also has a marvelous elementary school and, having visited hundreds of schools, we think Teaching K-8 is in a position to know it when we see it. Its good because, as mentioned earlier, everyone at Robinson Elementary is in support of its commitment to integrate the arts across the curriculum. Thats not a novel or unusual idea, of course, but at Robinson Elementary, a tiny school with only 135 students, emphasis on the arts from top to bottom has received national attention (and more about that in a moment). In this rural area, with homesites scattered about in remote areas, and with few businesses contributing to its tax base, life is not easy, and finding the funds to maintain the districts five elementary schools and one 7-12 high school isto put it mildlya significant challenge. Challenges. As a result, school budgets are tight, and money required to update Robinsons building, a request currently before the school board, will be hard to find. There are other challenges, particularly in the winter when some children, for example, must spend 45 minutes or more riding the bus to and from school over narrow, winding, hilly roads, only half of which are paved. CONTINUED NEXT WEEK. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Early Years, Inc. From the March 2007 issue of Teaching K-8 Magazine, Norwalk, Conn. 06854.

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