By Angela Brown
Arts Corps’ Creative Schools Initiative (CSI) just wrapped another year of arts integrated instruction in Highline Public Schools! Almost 600 students in 5th and 6th grade SW King County elementary schools experienced Language Arts classes embedded with theater and visual arts. This marks the end of the second year of instruction for our Department of Education funded research program Highline Creative Schools.
In collaboration with classroom teachers, Arts Corps teaching artists are supporting social-emotional skill development through arts-integrated instruction and a focus on helping students develop growth mindsets. Through this arts education program we are observing how pre-middle school students learn and what inspires them.
Focused on building community in the classroom, CSI activities challenge students to speak their truth and engage with their own learning processes. Students work to develop a sense of belonging, make effort to persevere, self-regulate, collaborate, and empathize with one another.
Kylah, a 6th grader at Gregory Heights, shared that during Arts Corps lessons students are interactive with each other, one big group, and helpful towards each other. White Center Heights Elementary held an impromptu poetry slam to wrap up 6th grade theater writing projects. Teaching artist Jéhan Òsanyìn has been working with 5th and 6th grade classrooms at White Center Heights and Mount View Elementary since Fall of 2015. During a focus group with program evaluators one 6th grader said during Arts Corps’ integrated classes, “We can express ourselves more, we have more confidence, we can challenge ourselves more.”
Almost one hundred 6th graders gathered in a tightly packed classroom last month to witness-the-litness of these bold 6th grade voices. In theater integration, students performed a character-based literary monologue they had written or performed a persuasive spoken word poem responding to a social issue. Student generated topics at the slam included speeches about immigration, deportation, racism, injustice, discrimination, equal rights, civil rights for LGBTQAI+, same sex marriage, police brutality, war, violence, colonization, President Trump, the U.S. travel ban, border control policy, gender, sexual assault, social anxiety, low wages, workers’ rights, animal rights, and pollution.
Before the slam begins, students gather in chairs placed in a theater style around the stage and Jéhan explains what a poetry slam is, what to expect, and how the student audience can encourage performers with soft hands or snapping fingers. Students bravely rose, group by group, to perform their speeches in front of peers and teachers, some poets performing solo or with teacher partners.
White Center Heights Elementary 6th grade students perform collaborative spoken word during theater arts integrated instruction. Featuring classroom teacher Tien Vo and students Amini, Jonathan, Jason, and Charlie.
Adding to students’ embedded theatrical instruction with Jéhan, the students had an equal number of sessions of visual arts integrated instruction with visual teaching artists Nate Herth and Sabrina Chacon-Barajas. Both worked with students on personal narrative writing and persuasive essays. 6th grade students wrote character-based literary essays leading to a character portrait and wrote a persuasive essay that was then expressed through a 3-dimensional advocacy pop-up poster.
In the next 6-week session, 5th graders used drawing and printmaking to become artist-
activist for an issue. Visual arts teaching artist, Carina del Rosario, and theatre teaching artist, Lauren Appel, lead sessions at Gregory Heights and Hazel Valley Elementary schools, respectively. In theater integration 5th graders used personal narrative to perform a collaborative spoken word piece or they performed a scene to argue their stance on a current issue. 5th grade visual arts integration work included reading a graphic novel and writing a personal narrative expressing their story as a comic.
Coming in fall 2017, Highline public middle schools can expect a cohort of powerful 7th graders to arrive – ready to put art and growth mindsets on the middle school agenda. They will join a community of 8th grade Creative School alums who have experienced the joy of learning through the arts. Arts Corps looks forward to this fall and the return of a fresh crew of young artists and writers.
Angela Brown is Arts Corps’ Highline Creative Schools Initiative’s Digital Media and Evaluation Manager. She is a writer, photographer, and botanical hydrologist living in White Center with her partner and semi-famous cocker spaniel.
Photos and videos by Angela Brown