Learning through the arts
John Ceschini
June 5, 2018

An arts integration school is a place where students learn the curriculum in and through the arts. This occurs when there is a natural connection between the skills and processes in multiple curricula. The arts are a proven strategy for accessing learning in all content areas.

We know teaching through the arts is an effective tool, but how do we ensure that our teachers feel comfortable implementing art?  In Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland, we currently have 73 Arts Integration Schools out of 209 county schools.  The program began in 2014 and includes schools at all grade levels from prek-12th grade.

Here's how to make it happen.

Start with the principal. Any initiative should start with the principal. Although they can’t do it alone, the principal is the gatekeeper. The principal alone can’t make it happen, but the principal alone can stop an initiative from happening. We began the Prince George’s County arts integration journey with 15 “pioneer” principals who wanted to try a different strategy for increasing student achievement. These 15 “pioneers” recognized the value in teaching through the arts and enthusiastically supported it.  They saw increased student engagement and student performance and attendance improved. In subsequent years, they became the biggest advocates for the program and enlisted their peers.

Have a small but committed team of teacher leaders. Every arts integration school in Prince George’s County has a “creative leadership team.” They are the critical teacher leaders who at the school level are the champions of arts integration.  The team usually consists of an art/arts teacher and other content teachers who are willing to be the “risk takers.”

In most of our schools, the team consists of 5-10 teachers.  We provide targeted training for these teachers to empower them with strategies for expanding the program across the school. One program is createED by Crayola that focuses on this “creative leadership team.” We realize that it is important to build the capacity of these teachers so they can act as catalysts for change at the school. We have seen that a small group of committed informed teachers can affect change at the school level.

Provide continued targeted professional development. Teachers can’t provide authentic arts integrated instruction if they don’t fully understand it. They must become familiar with the arts standards as well as their content area in order to integrate them. The primary source of this training at the school level can be the arts teacher.  Most of our elementary schools have visual arts and music teachers. Our secondary schools also have teachers in drama and dance. These “art experts” are essential as a school becomes comfortable in using art integration strategies.

Additionally, the professional development must be scaffolded as a school grows.  Teachers who are knowledgeable can mentor the other teachers. This builds a sustainable collaborative community of learners at the school.

Use arts partners to enhance support. The majority of the Prince George’s County Arts Integration office budget is focused on providing this support.  We also leverage our budget by working with arts organizations and their teaching artist resources. Resources are provided by the John F. Kennedy Center, Young Audiences of Maryland, Wolf Trap, and the Prince George’s Arts and Humanities Council to name a few of our large partnerships. Arts organizations usually have a budget to support arts education and it is a wonderful marriage of resources to focus our budgets on providing arts integration trainings.

An arts integration school will happen if you have creative school leaders that are supported in their journey. We must utilize both school and community resources and most importantly, recognize schools that are making progress.  In order to educate diverse learners, we must teach with diverse strategies. Arts integration is one proven way to ensure that all children can learn.

John L. Ceschini is the Arts Integration Officer for Prince George’s County Schools.  Under his leadership, the county arts integration program has grown to 73 schools in 4 years.  John is a former principal of three nationally recognized arts integration schools in Maryland.

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