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Teaching and learning with the arts: Part 2

Adding to the challenges, the student population at Robinson Elementary School in Starksboro, Vt., and two others of the five elementary schools in the district, is declining. School administrators are not sure why; area population has been relatively stable. However, the schools enrollment, 160 in 2005, dropped to 135 in January 2007. The schools emphasis on the arts really took hold in 2002, when Robinson Elementary School obtained, through the Vermont Department of Education, a $185,000 Federal Comprehensive School Reform grant. Spread over three yearsthe grant expired at the end of the 2005-2006 school yearit allowed the school to expand and refine its integration of the arts throughout the curriculum. In a hanging wall-calendar created by the school in 2005 as a fundraiser for its arts programs, Robinson Elementary Schools staff wrote, A main premise of teaching in, about and through the arts is that teachers study or participate in an art form. Thus, over the past few years, our teachers have learned to knit, to play the piano and recorder, to participate in dance and drumming classes, and attend art conferences/workshops. Teachers then model their own artistic skills for students throughout the year, the teachers wrote in the calendar, whether performing a circus skit to kick off an all-school residency by Circus Smirkus, dancing hip-hop for a school assembly, honoring an out-going principal in Speak Chorus, or introducing the school to the new principal through song. But, we asked Principal Dan Noel, how do you deal with the federal mandate of No Child Left Behind and its high-stakes testing? While the intent of our Arts Program, he replied, is to go deeper into the curriculum, to provide richer content, and to help the children understand how this applies in different settings, we never overlook accountability. Obviously, at Robinson theyre doing things right, and it was thus no surprise to learn that in 2004-2005 this tiny elementary school in rural Vermont was the recipient of The Kennedy Center (Washington, D.C.) Creative Ticket National Schools of Distinction Award for Excellence in Arts Educationa national award granted yearly to only five schools in the country. Thats an unbelievable feat for a school of Robinsons size, but it is a well-deserved honor. 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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