It’s all about the big picture: The arts aren’t just the arts, they help children in all areas of learning.
That’s the belief of the Indiana Arts Commission, Indiana State University’s Community School of the Arts and educators at Meadows Elementary School in Terre Haute.
Together, they celebrated with students Friday at the school and marked the success of the school in a literacy-through-art program.
In 2015 Meadows was one of three schools in the state to secure a three-year grant from the IAC to participate in its new Partnering Arts, Communities and Education — or PACE — program.
The program is meant to develop partnerships between high-poverty or low-performing elementary schools and arts organizations to help student growth.
And while Friday was meant to celebrate a successful grant completion, it doubled as a celebration of a fruitful partnership.
The Community School of the Arts is resolved to continue the program at Meadows. But beyond continuing the program at Meadows, the Community School for the Arts will also be expanding the program to Deming and Benjamin Franklin elementary schools.
“Meadows has been our home base of sorts for three years where we developed all of our curriculum,” said Cynthia Phillips-Sabla, director of the Community School of the Arts. “Now we’re prepared to take that to other schools and help them grow.”
And while each school has some autonomy as to how it implements the program, Meadows has used it as an opportunity to explore “Big Picture Thinking.”
Students are read a story, often dealing with aspects of art or an individual artist. Students then have to write about that story using key words like color wheel or cityscape in a personal journal.
They are then tasked with creating artwork that coincides with the story.
Suzanne Finn, the current teaching artist for ISU’s Community School of the Arts at Meadows, said she’s seen tremendous improvement in students’ literacy skills.
“It’s amazing when we start with the first grade and see the improvement from the beginning of the year to the end,” Finn said. “Just to see their journals is like, wow.”
Miah Michaelsen, deputy director of the Indiana Art Commission, said they have significant data that show a concerted art education for young students offers a host of benefits.
“We are seeing some really significant data that’s showing us this approach is not only bringing arts to the schools but helps literacy and other school-related behaviors,” Michaelsen said.
Phillips-Sabla said out of 147 students who participated in the program at Meadows, 81 showed improvement from last semester to the current one.
And while 55 percent may not sound great, she added 30 kids didn’t take both assessments. So of those who took both assessments, closer to 70 percent improved.
Michaelsen said the relationship between the Community School of the Arts and Meadows, coupled with the results they’ve achieved, should serve as a model for others to follow.
“The really great thing about this particular school is the relationship they’ve built with the Community School of the Arts,” Michaelsen said. “And even though our funding is ending, they are going to continue the program here and even expand it to two other schools.
“And for us, you couldn’t ask for a better model on how to do this. This is how we’d like to see it done and see the program applied.”