Teaching teachers

  • Jennifer Aaby<br>Enterprise writer
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 6:40am

SHORELINE — Sometimes, it’s the teachers turn to do the learning.

And when they’re learning about visual arts, drama and dance from top-quality artist-mentors, the learning opportunity is valuable – and fun – for the children too.

Parkwood Elementary has just begun the first of a two-year program called Arts Impact, which helps develop teachers’ knowledge and ability to instruct in the arts.

With each class at Parkwood focusing on one of three areas in the arts – visual arts, drama or dance/movement – all teachers are receiving hands-on training, which will likewise benefit the students.

“When the whole staff is behind the initiative, then all the kids benefit,” said Linda Luebke, music specialist at Parkwood. “For us, it’s an amazing way to get training.”

In recent weeks, artist-mentors have begun visiting classes at Parkwood and leading students through an hour or so of instruction in the subject. The classroom teachers, who attended weeklong workshop through Arts Impact in August, observed the artist-mentors as they instructed.

The classroom teachers will take on more responsibility in teaching the art form, while the artist-mentors take on more of a guidance role.

Arts Impact is a local organization that offers elementary school teachers support in instructing arts curriculum.

For Bethany Ibach, a first-grade teacher at Parkwood, teaching dance and movement is very new, and it would have been a challenging area to delve into without support from experts, she said.

“It would be very difficult,” Ibach said, as it’s hard to develop new curriculum when there are so many other areas that require her attention.

But to the first-graders and special-needs students who comprised a blended class during Ibach’s dance lesson, the experience was all about moving around, having fun and trying something new.

“I’m seeing kids that have a difficult time focusing … taking leadership,” Ibach said. She said she sees this as an opportunity for students to learn new skills and talents.

Parkwood Principal Laura Ploudre said she has seen teachers’ enthusiasm increase since attending the summer workshop.

“The energy in the building is really positive and powerful right now,” Ploudre said.

As the year progresses, Ibach will gain experience while working with Eric Johnson, an artist-mentor for dance, who has taught dance education for more than 20 years.

During the school year, Johnson and Ibach will work together to develop a lesson plan. Each teacher will do this, allowing others to learn from each other, Ibach said.

The arts is an important aspect of children’s education, said Sibyl Barnum, program manager for Arts Impact. She said there has been much research, and Arts Impact is now conducting its own, that indicates educating youth in the arts can positively affect their performances in other school subjects.

Ploudre agreed.

“We do think it accelerates and enriches learning across all subjects,” she said.

It is especially helpful, Luebke said, for all different types of learners. Some students focus best when learning kinesthetically, others visually or auditorily. In addition, doing different types of activities in the classroom helps teachers better understand their students’ strengths, she said.

Washington state has set standards for academics for children, and arts topics are no different.

These standards, called Essential Academic Learning Requirements, identify four areas of the arts – visual arts, dance, drama and music – which should be focused upon throughout a child’s education, Barnum said.

However, most schools and districts aren’t able to offer specialists in areas other than music, so Arts Impact is filling that void for many elementary schools, she said.

“If students aren’t getting these concepts at elementary grade-levels, when they get to the middle school and high school years, there’s all this ground work that teachers must be (covering),” Barnum said.

Ploudre said her school has had a grass-roots-type emphasis on arts during the past dozen years, and the staff decided to take that focus to the next level.

Luebke and Ploudre wrote a grant that helped pay for the program. Without the grant from the Washington State Arts Commission and support from the school PTA, it would have been difficult to offer the program schoolwide, Ploudre said.

While the school could have decided to only involve a handful of teachers, which would have cost less, Ploudre thought it would serve them best for each classroom teacher to participate.

“We didn’t want to leave anyone behind,” she said. “We really felt like the power in this would be in every teacher participating.”

Arts Impact curbs some of the cost through support from national, state and local businesses and organizations, Barnum said.

Luebke is thrilled so far with the way things are turning out.

“It’s an amazing program,” Luebke said. “I feel someone’s handed us the best possible resource for arts education.”

Talk to us