The power of art

Arts Integration expanding academic horizons at Mary Blount

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By Jody Poling Cartier
For Blount Today

The National Arts Education Campaign for Public Awareness boasts that the arts teach children to be more tolerant and self-confident and to express themselves creatively. At Mary Blount Elementary School, teachers are learning that exposing students to the arts can also help with their overall academic performance.

The key is integrating the arts into other classes and the result, says art teacher Doris Poppelreiter, has been great.

"Arts integration incorporates both arts standards and classroom standards", she says. "Seeing things just in text is harder for students. When you add a visual component, learning is easier and more accessible."

Poppelreiter teaches art at both Mary Blount Elementary and Porter Elementary. Her enthusiasm for her work led her to apply for a grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission for an Artist In Residence for both schools. The grant was approved and artist and sculptress Annamarie Gundlach began a three-month teaching residency at Mary Blount last month. Her residency at Porter Elementary begins in January.

Gundlach is a Value Plus artist for the Tennessee Arts Commission. Value Plus is a five-year arts education reform program concentrating specifically on arts integration. It emphasizes learning through the arts. Learning about the arts is also a component of the Value Plus program, as mandated by the Federal No Child Left Behind Act. The program was the direct result of a comprehensive study that pointed out a need to transform traditional arts education.

According to the Tennessee Arts Commission web site, the total cost of the Value Plus program over the next 5 years will be approximately $2,001,600. Half of those funds are derived from federal dollars and the remaining funds will come from state and private sources.

The artist residency at Mary Blount is focused specifically on The Unheard Voices of Native Americans - a program designed to help children explore the history and lore of various Native American tribes. The topic offers a perfect example of Arts Integration at work.

For the students in grades K - 2, Gundlach says the Cherokee tribe was chosen for study due in large part to their history in our immediate area. "The children are making Cherokee good luck charms, known as fetishes, out of clay. Beading is incorporated to make a necklace, which involves and improves fine motor skills."

Projects for students in grades 3 - 5 are concentrating on tribes including the Pueblo, Hope and Navajo. They are sculpting contemporary versions of the traditional chochina doll from clay, then painting their creations. The project includes creating a story to accompany the chochina. In doing so, history, language, social studies and even environmentalism are all brought into play.

Gundlach has been delighted with students’ work as well as their enthusiasm for the projects. She says many of the students are discovering a love of creating art that they did not know they possessed. And all students seem to be enjoying the challenge that the projects present. She points out their intense concentration as they work on their creations and adds "Projects like this teach students focus as well," she says.

It is vital that the entire teaching staff cooperates in the project in order to provide the best learning experience possible, says Poppelreiter. She adds that the teachers at Mary Blount have enthusiastically embraced the idea of arts integration. They have incorporated the lessons of The Unheard Voices of Native Americans into corresponding classes with good results.

Despite the fact that she is trained in teaching art, Poppelreiter worked as a Social Studies teacher for several years until a position teaching art became available in Blount County. During that time she was named Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year in Social Studies - a prestigious award that she claims would probably not have been possible if not for her background in art. Even then, Poppelreiter says she realized the value of incorporating art into her teaching.

Poppelreiter wants other teachers in other schools to be aware that grants from the Tennessee Arts Commission are available and accessible for other local schools. She encourages all educators to seek them out in order to enhance their schools’ arts programs. A good place to start is the Commission’s homepage at www.arts.state.tn.us. "The grants are out there waiting to be had," she says.

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