Skip to main content Skip to main content

The Arts In Every Classroom: A Video Library K-5

Expanding the Role of the Arts Specialist

Three arts teachers work with colleagues around their schools, using collaborative techniques that go beyond the traditional work of arts specialists. Kathy DeJean is a dance artist at Lusher Alternative Elementary School in New Orleans; Mary Perkerson is the visual art teacher at Harmony Leland Elementary School in Mableton, Georgia; and Amanda Newberry is the theatre specialist at Lusher.

View Transcript

Dance teacher Kathy DeJean with members of the Dance Troupe at Lusher Alternative Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Three arts specialist teachers practice in their own art forms with students and share their skills and ideas with teachers in other subject areas:

    • Kathy DeJean, a dance teacher at arts-based Lusher Alternative Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana, coordinates her lesson plans with classroom teachers, using dance to integrate reading and vocabulary (see Featured Approaches).
    • Mary Perkerson, a visual art specialist, conducts workshops in visual art techniques for new teachers at Harmony Leland Elementary School in Mableton, Georgia. For an honors art class, she introduces a group of kindergarten through second-grade students to techniques of cel animation. Perkerson also demonstrates some of the ways she integrates visual art topics and literacy (see Featured Approaches).
  • Amanda Newberry, a theatre teacher at Lusher, works with a first-grade class, involving the classroom teacher. They explore storytelling by using improvisation to “write a story in your heads,” (see Featured Approaches).

Featured People

Who’s Who
(In order of appearance)

  • Kathy DeJean, dance specialist, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisia (Interview below)
  • Megan Neelis, second-grade teacher, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Mary Perkerson, visual art specialist, Harmony Leland Elementary School, Mableton, Georgia (Interview below)
  • Denise Walker, first-grade teacher, Harmony Leland Elementary School, Mableton, Georgia
  • Gillian Conner, fourth-grade teacher, Harmony Leland Elementary School, Mableton, Georgia
  • Amanda Newberry, theatre specialist, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Eve Gitlin, third-grade teacher, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Paul Reynaud, first-grade teacher, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana


Featured Schools

1. Lusher Alternative Elementary School

  • Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Principal: Kathleen Hurstell Riedlinger
  • Assistant Principal: Sheila Nelson
  • Featured teachers and collaborators: Kathy DeJean, dance teacher; Marti Dumas, fifth-grade teacher; Carolyn Cunningham, fifth-grade teacher; Amanda Newberry, theatre teacher; Warren Irwin, visiting artist; Megan Neelis, second-grade teacher; Eve Gitlin, third-grade teacher; Paul Reynaud, first-grade teacher; Geralyn Broussard, first-grade teacher; Nancy Lilly, fourth-grade teacher; Ann Rowson Love, curator of education, Ogden Museum of Southern Art; Louise Trimble Kepper, artist and student of Will Henry Stevens; Kathy Guidry, kindergarten teacher; Carolyn DuBois, fourth-grade teacher; Tricia Ruf, student teacher; Adele Brown, fourth-grade teacher
  • Grades: K–5
  • Number of students: About 500
  • Number of faculty: About 49
  • Demographic information: Thirty percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Two percent of students are English language learners. The student population is 49 percent Caucasian, 41 percent African-American, 6 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Asian, and 1 percent Native American.

Lusher Alternative Elementary, a K–5 public school in the Orleans Parish School District, provides a student-centered curriculum in an atmosphere where each child is encouraged to develop academically, physically, socially, and emotionally.

Strong emphasis is put on a core curriculum with opportunity for development of individual needs and talents using varied teaching styles and strategies. Aided by the Annenberg-Getty Arts Partnership as an Art School Partner, Lusher upholds its school motto: “Celebrating Cultural Diversity Through High Academics and the Arts.”

Lusher’s Talented in the Arts program meets the needs of students who have exceptional ability in music, visual art, or drama. Students are referred by teachers and screened through an evaluation process by the school’s special education department. Students who leave their regular classes to take part in this program also are expected to keep up their regular class work.

Respect for the rights of others and oneself are of utmost importance at Lusher. Teachers use a positive approach to discipline through the Project Pride program. Project Pride’s four basic rules are: be kind, be responsible, do your best work, and respect people and property. At Lusher, the strong bonds of commitment and cooperation among students, teachers, administrators, and the community help provide a strong education for each child.

Information provided by Lusher Alternative Elementary School. Current as of February 2002.


2. Harmony Leland Elementary School

  • Location: Mableton, Georgia
  • Web site:
  • Principal: Sandra McGary-Ervin
  • Featured teachers: Barrett Jackson, string specialist; Crystal Peters, music specialist; Jermal Riggins, second-grade teacher; Mary Perkerson, visual art specialist; Denise Walker, first-grade teacher; Gillian Conner, fourth-grade teacher
  • Grades: PK–5
  • Number of students: 485
  • Number of faculty: 54
  • Demographic information: Fifty-seven percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Student population is 60 percent African-American, 26 percent Caucasian, 10 percent Hispanic, and 4 percent other. Student transiency rate is 17 percent.

Beginning in 1998, Harmony Leland engaged in intensive self-study and researched best practices. As a result of this exploration, the elementary school focused on implementing school improvement goals to turn around declining student achievement. A major transformation at Harmony Leland led to significant initiatives addressing academics, character education, and parent and community involvement. The fine arts, in particular, are used to reach students at Harmony Leland. The school became a Leonard Bernstein Center for Artful Learning and began a violin program that includes every child in the school.

Harmony Leland’s mission is to provide all students with rigorous and relevant academic and fine arts educational experiences, which promote excellence and a life-long love of learning. The school actively fosters appreciation and acceptance of diversity.

Harmony Leland’s school population has varied ethnicity and socioeconomic diversity. The school seeks ways to bridge school and community, based on the belief that facilitation among school, parents, and community is key to school success. Partnerships and collaborations among students, parents, community members, businesses, and teachers help further the school’s goals.

Harmony Leland provides a variety of opportunities during and after school for students to develop knowledge, skills, and experiences. Examples include Drop Everything and Read; Breakthrough to Literacy; and honors programs such as honors chorus, honors art, and honors violin.

Information provided by Harmony Leland Elementary School. Current as of February 2002.



Featured Approaches

Integrating Dance and Vocabulary

“Dance words are all through the curriculum,” says Kathy DeJean. “Whether you are jumping or running or hopping or rolling or swimming, those are action words and they are parts of speech. If a classroom teacher really wanted to see that the education of the whole child includes the arts, she could possibly acquire some dance vocabulary that’s common to any dance form and turn it over to the kids.


Integrating Visual Art and Literacy

Mary Perkerson’s strategies include:

  • Reading books on arts topics during the school’s daily Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) time and at the end of the school day.
  • Writing book reports, doing research, and writing poetry and stories about visual art and artists.
  • Writing a story about Martin Luther King, Jr, and then making a drawing to go with it.
  • Designing a literacy mural for teachers to paint in the school hall.
  • Working with classroom teachers on visual art projects to integrate with other subjects for the school’s weekly Art Hour.


Involving the Classroom Teacher

“I will ask teachers what they would like: ‘What curriculum are you getting stuck on? How can we make it more experiential, more real?’” says Amanda Newberry. “Once students forget that they are in the classroom, they can see it, they can actually believe it’s happening. So, you have to be very guided.”

She continues, “I’ve had teachers who say, ‘I would love to have drama, but don’t make me do it, don’t put me up there.’ Because I do [have the teachers participate]. I think it’s great for the students to see the teachers in a different role, see another side of them. Students think, ‘If the teacher is willing to do it, then, gosh, so am I.’”


Who Should Watch This Program

“Expanding the Role of the Arts Specialist” demonstrates opportunities for integrating the arts throughout the school day and curriculum. The program can be an effective introduction to a professional development workshop on this topic for arts specialist teachers, new and experienced classroom teachers, curriculum planners, and administrators.

Other audiences for this program might include:

  • advocates, critics, policymakers, and prospective funders for arts-based programs, to demonstrate that the arts promote academic achievement and meet standards in all areas of academic learning; and
  • specialists in other subjects such as reading, to show how teachers in all subject areas can integrate the arts with other areas of learning.

Before Watching

This program models interactions among arts specialist teachers, classroom teachers, and students in several instructional environments.

As you watch, look for ways that the arts specialists seek input and feedback from classroom teachers:

  • How do they incorporate this information into their instruction?
  • Should arts specialists take the lead in offering to help classroom teachers learn arts-based skills? How can they do this in a collegial way that will gain teachers’ support?
  • Do arts specialists gain insights about students that would be helpful to classroom teachers? How should specialists share this?
  • How can arts specialists become part of the classroom teachers’ teams, regularly sharing information and ideas?
  • Is the “expert” role of the arts specialist diminished or enhanced by interacting with other teachers?




Kathy DeJean

Dance teacher, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana

Kathy DeJean has a bachelor’s degree in choreographic design and a master’s degree in performance/choreography. She also has extensive workshop training in contact improvisation, yoga, theatre, and other subjects. DeJean has more than 25 years of experience in teaching all age levels, prekindgergarten through adult, both privately and in school settings. She has performed all over the United States and Europe in modern and ethnic dance, musical theatre, ballet, and more. She has extensive training in music, costume design, stagecraft, theatre, and improvisational mixed media performance art.

Q. Please give a few examples of dance projects that were teacher-initiated and a few projects that were initiated by you. Briefly describe the planning and development process.

A. Most of our projects at Lusher are collaborative. During the 11 years I have been there, I have started many projects that involve one or more teachers — classroom teachers and arts teachers: Quest Project, Greek Feast, Renaissance Revelry, and a zillion more. All of these projects involved live music, dance, theatre, sets, and costumes.

Research and curriculum integration from third through eighth grades are based on Wiggins and McTighe’s Curriculum by Design. We begin with a “big idea,” which is a slight variation from Curriculum by Design, then use their framework to continue inquiry. A team of teachers and artists, with students, contribute facts, fantasy, and integration of the experience. It culminates in a shared public experience, with parents, staff, and the public invited. These particular projects occur over several months, and creativity abounds.

Q. How have you involved parents, teachers, and community resources in dance at Lusher? Please give a few examples of past activities and methods used to do so.

A. Some of our ways include advocacy to promote all the arts as living, ongoing experiences [and] as education for the “whole child”; dance performances where parents are asked to help; all school trips; newsletter information on upcoming events; dance performances at different times and places for lots of parents; a 70-member dance company; large, multigrade projects… .

Community resources include field tripping, lots of public performances (touring with the kids). Parents become part of the experiences through providing work/contact time with kids in classroom and during performances. Also, we have guest speakers (some parents) and so much more.

Mary Perkerson

Visual art specialist, Harmony Leland Elementary School, Mableton, Georgia

Mary Perkerson has been teaching visual art in public schools since 1998. Before that, she was a substitute teacher for a year in all grade levels and classrooms. She also taught private visual art classes for five years in an art studio. At the time this program was videotaped, she was a visual art specialist at the arts-based Harmony Leland Elementary School.

Q. Please give a few examples of art projects you have taught teachers to do in their own classrooms.

A. I have shown classroom teachers basic projects such as crayon resist and engraving, mixing colors for a color wheel, and using chalk and oil pastels. I have also introduced classroom teachers to clay and mural painting. Teachers take the techniques shown to them and develop creative projects to support the curriculum being taught in their rooms.

Q. Describe Art Hour at Harmony Leland. How does it fit within the rest of the curriculum? Is it integrated with other subjects being taught? What is the purpose of Art Hour?

A. Art Hour was designed to give classroom teachers the opportunity to be creative with their students and, at the same time, give students the opportunity to do large art projects together. Each week, one hour of class time is devoted specifically to the arts: drawing, painting, clay, music, drama, etc. The arts specialist helps the classroom teacher to develop creative projects and activities that inspire and introduce key concepts in science, social studies, writing, reading, and math. The arts make the learning process tangible and concrete for students to grasp concepts more easily.

Q. How much time does a typical teacher spend working with you over the course of a year? How do you assess whether a teacher has mastered the material and is applying it?

A. Teachers spend a few minutes each week with me discussing their upcoming projects when I visit their classrooms prior to Art Hour to see if I can be of any assistance. I also hold monthly workshops to give classroom teachers new techniques to use in their classes. Classroom teachers also come to me for help during the day to ask questions concerning upcoming projects.

Q. Do you seek ideas from classroom teachers on how they would like to use your skills?

A. Yes, I do ask teachers how I could be integrating their curriculum into the art classroom. I want my art lessons to be relevant and meaningful to the student.

Q. In an ideal world, how would you like to see your role grow? What other skills, learning, and services would you like to provide at Harmony Leland?

A. I would like the arts specialist to be more involved in planning with classroom teachers to create a more cohesive learning environment for the student.

Q. If a teacher is uncomfortable or unsure about working with you, how do you gain support and trust? How do you build support within the school’s administration?

A. Classroom teachers will support and trust the arts specialist when they see the results of learning with their students through the integration of the arts in the curriculum. It sometimes takes time, but it will happen. I build support and trust with administration by supporting their teachers. The more I can help them out, the smoother the arts will flow throughout the school.

Arts Education Standards


    • Content Standard 1 — Identifying and demonstrating movement elements and skills in performing dance

Achievement Standards for Grades K–4

      • Demonstrate kinesthetic awareness, concentration, and focus in performing movement skills
      • Demonstrate the ability to define and maintain personal space
    • Content Standard 2 — Understanding choreographic principles, processes, and structures

Achievement Standards for Grades K–4

    • Create a sequence with a beginning, middle, and end both with and without a rhythmic accompaniment


    • Content Standard 2 — Acting by assuming roles and interacting in improvisations

Achievement Standards for Grades K–4

      • Assume roles that exhibit concentration and contribute to the action of classroom dramatizations based on personal experience and heritage, imagination, literature, and history
    • Content Standard 3 — Designing by visualizing and arranging environments for classroom dramatizations

Achievement Standards for Grades K–4

    • Collaborate to establish playing spaces for classroom dramatizations and to select and safely organize available materials that suggest scenery, properties, lighting, sound, costumes, and makeup

Visual Art

    • Content Standard 1 — Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes

Achievement Standards for grades K–4

    • Use different media, techniques, and processes to communicate ideas, experiences, and stories

Source: National Standards for Arts Education, published by Music Educators National Conference (MENC). Copyright © 1994 by MENC. Used by permission. The complete National Arts standards and additional materials relating to the Standards are available from MENC, The National Association for Music Education, 1806 Robert Fulton Drive, Reston, VA 20191, telephone: 800-336-3768.

Source, Dance Standards: This article/quote is reprinted from National Standards for Arts Education with permission of the National Dance Association, an association of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. The original source may be purchased from: National Dance Association, 1900 Association Drive, Reston, VA 20191-1599;
or phone 703-476-3421.