Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Interviews

Katherine Babb, co-founder of residency program, Idalia School, Idalia, Colorado

Cyndie Weyerman, co-founder of residency program and K–12 special education teacher, Idalia School, Idalia, Colorado

Mary Allen, kindergarten teacher, Idalia School, Idalia, Colorado

Katherine Babb and Cyndie Weyerman
Katherine Babb taught third grade for three years at Idalia School. She received a degree in elementary education from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado, and has done postgraduate work in special education, Spanish, music, English as a second language, reading, and computer science. Before Idalia, she taught for 16 years in two other small Colorado towns, Grover and Walsenburg. She now teaches high school Spanish in Burlington, Colorado. Babb writes plays and music and has published six small books, including a book for teachers on Reader’s Theatre.

Cyndie Weyerman has been a teacher for 26 years and the special education resource teacher at Idalia School for the past 16 years. She graduated from Arizona State University with a major concentration in elementary education and minors in special education, math education, and art. Weyerman received her master’s degree in special education from Adams State College in Alamosa, Colorado. She was a middle school teacher in Micronesia for the Peace Corps. She also taught at the middle school in Kearns, Utah, and at the high school in Rey, Colorado.

Q. Has the residency program at Idalia School been implemented schoolwide? If not, what portion of the school is now included in the program?

A. Babb: When the artists are in residence, the entire school participates at some level, from attending assemblies to spending in-depth workshop time with the artists. This includes students from preschool through high school.

Q. What was the approval process for the residency program? How did you obtain buy-in from the community, including parents?

A. Babb: When we first started, we had to have board approval to write grant proposals and the principal’s approval as well. We didn’t quite ask for parent approval, but when the artists were in the school, parents were very much included, especially in the evening and weekend workshops provided for the community by the artists. Parents definitely were a part of the process, through hosting artists in homes, coming to the workshops, and helping with fund-raising events.

Weyerman: Kathy describes what we had to go through in the beginning when everything was new. The people in charge and the people with whom the artists would be working needed opportunities for approval and input to begin to make this experience theirs, which was the goal since we wanted the integration of art into the curriculum to become routine rather than an experience that only occurs when an artist is in the classroom. Now, five years later, I conduct post-evaluation surveys of residencies and have formed a committee comprised of students, parents, and teachers who review the surveys, interview the artists, and ultimately pick the artists for the residencies. The administration “trusts” that we will continue to provide experiences with the same quality of artists as we have had. They “trust” that the faculty and community have a buy-in and support the process fully.

Q. How was the program funded?

A. Babb: At first, the funding came largely through grants from Young Audiences of Colorado, the Annenberg Rural Challenge, and several local grant sources. Then there were several types of fundraisers tried, and finally the kids started selling frozen cookie dough. Funding is an ongoing issue that never seems to end; there are wonderful artists out there if the money can be obtained!

Q. Describe the process by which you decided which artists and which disciplines to include in the residency program.

A. Babb: We wrote small surveys for the teachers, asking what types of artistic disciplines they would like to see in the school and how they felt that the arts would tie in to their curricular areas. People’s responses really did determine the types of arts disciplines we worked toward. Of course, we had met some of the artists through the Young Audiences Aesthetic Institutes and had such strong, positive encounters that we knew they would bring great things to the school — which they did!

Q. What other residencies have there been at Idalia School, in addition to music and theatre?

A. Babb: Professional photography, graphic design (computer), paper making, poetry writing (quite a bit of this!), fiction writing, and puppet making.

Q. Please describe the typical residency. Is there a standard term? A culminating activity or performance? Do you have the same artists every year?

A. Babb: The first year, we had two two-week residencies: David Guerrero with photography and Birgitta De Pree with drama. The second year, Birgitta came back for a two-month residency spread out over the year. This was a new type of residency for the Young Audiences people, but we all loved it because it “spread out the magic” for longer periods of time. That year, we also had a paper maker, a poet, and a graphic design computer specialist.

Before the residencies, teachers were asked for specific ways that they would use the artists in their classrooms and their curriculum. When the artists came, they met with the teachers (we hired a “floating sub” so that they had some time to do this) and talked about what they wanted to accomplish. This had amazing results. For example, the paper-making projects ranged from patriotic flags in first-grade social studies to amazing planets in sixth-grade science and parchment paper for writing the Articles of the Constitution in American History. Each artist had a special way of using the arts to intensify and broaden the curricular area. It was thrilling to see it happen.

Weyerman: The kinds of collective activities we do depends on the artist who is with us. We have launched our residencies with a performance as the catalyst. That’s been really powerful. We’ve also brought the artist in for a week or two to work with the students, let the energy build, and then provided an evening performance to which the entire family is invited. We’ve found an interactive aspect is powerful because the parents can participate or see the children interacting with the artist. I think our community support has grown because of those experiences. When possible, we’ve also tried to bring the school together to see, hear, watch, etc., the projects each class has been working on with the artist. The kids have performed music and plays they’ve written; read poetry, prose, and short fiction; and displayed photos in a variety of formats and discussed their purpose.

We really enjoy the mixture of having artists we know work with us mixed with new artists. Each offers something different and rich. This fall, for example, we have two new actors coming to launch a community history project. They will be the catalyst for the students to begin to collect their family’s history. The actors will be followed by two writers we’ve worked with before who will help the children turn their information into poetry, prose, historical fiction, and nonfiction. The actors will return after the writers to help those interested to turn their writings into short plays. In the spring we will have a new musician, an African drummer, working with us to integrate drumming into the curriculum... .

A lot ... is driven by what we can afford. Let’s say we can afford a two-week residency, which is around $1,500. We then look at the discipline and confer with the artist to determine the amount of time he or she needs to work with the students to experience the artistic process integrated with the curriculum. Some teachers will only want a couple “workshops” to jazz up their curriculum. Others want a fully integrated project, which takes more time. From there the schedule emerges. Over time we’ve found that when teachers risk a full immersion experience, they never want to return to the simple workshops.

Q. What recommendations can you suggest for other schools interested in finding resident artist programs?

A. Babb: We were very fortunate in having Young Audiences as a springboard into our program. Their Aesthetic Institutes have been a great bridge for artists and schools. Teachers interested in having resident artists should find organizations like this. Arts councils and clubs, state arts organizations, the Getty Foundation, and other places might have information that would lead to artists trained and available to work with students.

Q. What qualities would a resident artist possess that would make you want that artist to come back to your school?

A. Babb: The best were those who were actively pursuing their own art first and were excited about communicating that form or that discipline to others. They were people who were artists first, but willing to be teachers if it meant that it could enthuse others about their art. The people with whom we worked had been specifically screened and trained by Young Audiences for just this end.

Weyerman: Good people skills are especially important. There are wonderful artists out there who would do poorly in a residency. Their art should be studied, observed, and appreciated. Artists who can connect well with children, can collaborate with teachers, and recreate the artistic process in the context of curriculum are the gems we seek for our residencies. Residencies are not for all artists or artists seeking an audience. This experience is about the children and helping to develop a perspective, which results in greater learning.

Q. What impact has the residency program had on the school?

A. Babb: Students and teachers alike have become excited about writing, poetry, photography, drama, and even paper making, but have learned more about their own potential for teaching and learning as well. Having artists in the school has opened new dimensions for not only new things to learn, but new ways to learn things!

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Mary Allen
Mary Allen graduated from Colorado State College in Greeley (now known as the University of Northern Colorado) with a major concentration in fine arts and a minor in music and elementary education. She taught art in Rawlins, Wyoming, for two years and taught third grade in St. Francis, Kansas, for one year. She served as a substitute teacher at Idalia School while raising her family, returning to full-time teaching in 1997.

Q. How do you implement what you’ve learned from the resident artists in your classroom?

A. After having two poets as artists-in-residence and seeing how interested and excited the children were about poetry, I have helped my students create “class poems” once a week. These are hung in the hall for all to enjoy. At the end of the year I make a book of the poems we have created for each of the children to take home and enjoy. This activity satisfies Colorado State Standards for reading and writing, [such as] Standard 2: “Students write and speak for a variety of purposes and audiences.”

I have incorporated what was learned from an actress into many math and language activities. Here is one example of a math activity: Using our body parts, we solved addition and subtraction problems, [such as] “2 plus 4 = ?” One child might stand on one foot and put one hand on the floor, while another child stood on both feet and put down both hands. Another child would solve the problem and perhaps stand on one foot and put down five fingers. Children were encouraged to come up and solve the problem in other ways. They really enjoy this activity. Lots of laughter! This activity satisfies Colorado State Standards for mathematics, [such as] Standard 6: “Students can add and subtract whole numbers by combining and separating objects.”

We just had an artist help us make masks to use in our class play. I learned from her that the three little pigs don’t have to look like pigs and that the big bad wolf doesn’t really have to look like a wolf. She encouraged the children to be creative and use whatever materials they liked to decorate their masks — they were adorable. I plan to do this activity with the children each year.

A couple of years ago, we had a professional photographer visit our class. I used what was learned from him to help the children identify shapes in their surroundings. I take pictures of different things inside and outside the school, laminate them, and then have the children look for shapes in the pictures. For example, in the screens that cover our heat registers, we can see squares, triangles, circles, and diamonds. This activity satisfies Colorado State Standards for mathematics, [such as] Standard 4: “Students can recognize and identify circles, triangles, squares, rectangles, ovals, and diamonds.”

Q. Did you receive any professional development in working with artists in the classroom? If so, who provided the training?

A. Once, during an inservice. Some artists-in-residence provided the training.

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