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

Introducing Arts Education

This program includes three segments: Is Arts Education? What Are the Arts? In How Do You Know They're Learning?

View Transcript

Costumes lead to inquiry about the arts and social studies in a fifth-grade class at Lusher Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana

What Is Arts Education? (14 minutes)
To get you thinking, here is a montage of insights from teachers and administrators plus examples of successful arts instruction in classrooms across America. In the Observations From Administrators section below, you can see how administrators in Denver, Colorado, suburban Atlanta, Georgia, New Orleans, Louisiana, and New York, New York, showcase some of the ways that the arts benefit students and help schools become more successful.

What Are the Arts? (5 minutes)
We all know the arts when we experience them — but coming up with a general definition is a real challenge. Teachers, administrators, students, and parents offer candid, thoughtful, and sometimes humorous comments on what the arts mean to them. The program is useful as a discussion starter with adults and students.

How Do You Know They’re Learning? (4 minutes)
Learning takes many forms, and some areas of proficiency are highly subjective. In this short program, educators from several schools tell how they know if their students are “getting” what the teachers are teaching. This program is useful as a discussion starter with teachers, administrators, and parents.

Featured People

Who’s Who
(In order of appearance)

  • Kathy DeJean, dance teacher, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Marti Dumas, fifth-grade teacher, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Stephen Gonzales, district arts coordinator, Denver Public Schools, Denver, Colorado (See interview below)
  • Kathleen Hurstell Riedlinger, principal, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Martha Rodriguez-Torres, principal, P.S. 156, The Waverly School of the Arts, Brooklyn, New York
  • Barrett Jackson, string specialist, Harmony Leland Elementary School, Mableton, Georgia
  • Sandra McGary-Ervin, principal, Harmony Leland Elementary School, Mableton, Georgia
  • Crystal Peters, music specialist, Harmony Leland Elementary School, Mableton, Georgia
  • Warren Irwin, artist, New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Carolyn Cunningham, fifth-grade teacher, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Michael Stanwood, visiting musician, Idalia School, Idalia, Colorado
  • Jermal Riggins, second-grade teacher, Harmony Leland Elementary School, Mableton, Georgia
  • George E. Jackson, III, drama teacher, Barney Ford Elementary School, Denver, Colorado
  • Sylvia Bookhardt, music teacher, Smith Renaissance School of the Arts, Denver, Colorado
  • Rory Pullens, assistant principal, Smith Renaissance School of the Arts, Denver, Colorado
  • Amanda Newberry, theatre teacher, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Antwine Williams, parent, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana


Featured Schools

1. Barney Ford Elementary School

  • Location: Denver, Colorado
  • Web site:
  • Principal: Wanda Lenox
  • Featured teacher: George E. Jackson, III, drama teacher
  • Grades: PreK–5
  • Number of students: 628
  • Number of faculty: 40

Demographic information: Eighty-eight percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Almost 35 percent of students are English-language learners. The student population is 55.4 percent Hispanic, 36 percent African-American, 4.3 percent Caucasian, 2.9 percent Asian, and 1.4 percent Native American.

Barney Ford Elementary is named after a former slave who, in addition to becoming educated, became active politically and financially in the 19th-century Colorado territory. This tradition of achievement is central to the vision and success of the school.

Barney Ford Elementary is focused on improving students’ reading, writing, and math skills by using research-based and teacher-tested strategies such as Reading Recovery, Success in Early Reading, and Six-Trait Writing. Teachers are trained in the Step Up To Write program, which has helped many schools improve student writing by concentrating on organization and word choice. Students have opportunities to participate in a wide range of activities, such as an annual Shakespeare Festival and weekly activities in drama, choir, art, computer skills, and physical education.

Information provided by Barney Ford 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.


3. Idalia School

  • Location: Idalia, Colorado
  • Principal: Tim Gribben
  • Featured teachers and artists: Michael Stanwood, visiting musician; Linda Shivley, parent and substitute teacher; Katherine Babb, residency program co-founder; Cyndie Weyerman, special education teacher; Mary Allen, kindergarten teacher; Birgitta De Pree, visiting theatre artist; Trudi Weiser, fourth-grade teacher; Jim Rittenhouse, social studies teacher; Sandi Waitman, third-grade teacher
  • Grades: PreK–5
  • Number of students: 50
  • Number of faculty: 6
  • Demographic information: Idalia School’s 50 PreK–5 students account for one-third of its total PreK–12 student population of 151, all of whom study in one building. Of Idalia’s student population, 44 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and 10 percent are English language learners. Eighty-eight percent of students are Caucasian; 12 percent are non-Caucasian.

At Idalia School, students are encouraged to learn about and take pride in their tight-knit, rural community — often as a way of learning about history, geography, the arts, and other subjects.

Located on the eastern plains of Colorado 30 miles west of the Kansas border, Idalia School draws students from Idalia (population 91) and the nearby towns of Burlington, Joes, and Wray.

Teachers at Idalia School have collaborated with working artists to integrate the arts into the curriculum since 1997. Theatre, photography, poetry, prose, music, and visual art have found prominent places in the curriculum. Students recently produced a display called “Picture Old Idalia.” The exhibit began as a collection of old photographs and evolved into a permanent display that draws community members into the school to share their knowledge of the people and places depicted in more than 1,000 photos. The effort was supported by the Annenberg Rural Trust, which funds exemplary rural public school programs that reflect their communities’ unique history, culture, economy, or environment.

In the 1999–2000 school year, Idalia School was one of five schools in the state to receive the Colorado Alliance for Art Education’s Creative Ticket School of Excellence Award.

Information provided by Idalia School. Current as of February 2002.


4. 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.


5. P.S. 156, The Waverly School of the Arts

  • Location: Brooklyn, New York
  • Web site:
  • Principal: Martha Rodriguez-Torres
  • Assistant Principal: Oswaldo Malave
  • Featured teachers and artists: Janine Eckles, second-grade teacher; Leonore Gordon, visiting writer, Teachers & Writers Collaborative; Scott Pivnik, dance and movement teacher; Caren Plummer, visiting dance artist, Lotus Music & Dance; Kojo Plummer, visiting musician, Lotus Music & Dance; Goldie Rich, African strand team leader; Allison Sicuranza, first-grade teacher; Diane Thomas, first-grade teacher; Laura Parkhurst, first-grade teacher; Suzanne Ramos, first-grade teacher
  • Grades: K–6
  • Number of students: 752
  • Number of faculty: 70
  • Demographic information: Ninety-four percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Student population is 80 percent African-American, 19 percent Hispanic, and 1 percent other.

P.S. 156, also known as The Waverly School of the Arts, is located in a low-income Brooklyn neighborhood called Brownsville. It serves a student population of mostly African-Americans and Latinos. The school’s mission is to establish and maintain an environment that is stimulating, challenging, and nurturing. Parents and school personnel collaborate to foster a sense of well-being and growth among all children.

With a strong emphasis on individual, child-centered learning and ongoing student assessment, the commitment of the school’s faculty and staff to personal and academic growth has paid off with academic improvements, notably in reading achievement. Additionally, with funds from the Center for Arts Education in New York City, P.S. 156 enhances its curriculum with instrumental music, dance, and movement.

Close collaboration with local art partners who have specific expertise in multiculturalism and the language arts exposes students to a variety of arts organizations and activities. For example, Lotus Music & Dance provides traditional dancers, musicians, and visual artists from around the world to collaborate and team-teach with faculty. The Teachers & Writers Collaborative provides writers to work with classroom teachers in the use of creative writing across the curriculum. The local teachers’ union has established a Teacher Center to provide ongoing staff development to school staff in curriculum integration. These efforts encourage students to strive for excellence academically, socially, and emotionally.

Information provided by P.S. 156, The Waverly School of the Arts. Current as of February 2002.


6. Smith Renaissance School of the Arts

  • Location: Denver, Colorado
  • Web site:
  • Principal: Joyce Simmons
  • Featured teachers: Sylvia Bookhardt, music teacher; Kelly Harbolt, drama teacher; Suzanne Hewitt, visual art teacher
  • Grades: K–5
  • Number of students: 530
  • Number of faculty: 37
  • Demographic information: Student population is 70 percent African-American, 25 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Caucasian, and 2 percent other. Ninety percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Annual mobility rate is 118 percent.

Smith Renaissance School of the Arts is a magnet school focusing in the arts. The arts education program design was implemented at the start of the 1997–98 school year. Smith employs arts staff members who work with classroom teachers in a team approach. Lessons are consistent with state mandates and are tied to national standards.

Smith’s mission is to develop each student’s abilities, nurturing both higher academic achievement and personal development, through exposure to the arts. The school’s goals are to improve academic performance, increase parent-community involvement, and infuse the arts into all aspects of the curriculum to improve achievement. The curriculum is designed around the performing and visual arts. Students explore programs in each of the arts through third grade. Fourth- and fifth-grade students can develop their areas of choice while continuing their education in other areas.

Because Smith is a magnet school, students who have been accepted come from within and outside of the normal school boundaries.

Smith is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The school has partnerships with many organizations that provide support, such as the Denver School of the Arts, the Colorado Children’s Chorale, Ready to Succeed, the Shaka Foundation, and the Colorado Youth Symphony.

Information provided by Smith Renaissance School of the Arts. Current as of February 2002.


Who Should Watch This Program

“What Is Arts Education?” is an effective tool to capture interest in the arts. Among the audiences who would find this program useful are:

  • classroom teachers, to consider how the arts can enhance their instruction;
  • principals, curriculum directors, and other administrators, to see some of the ways schools are integrating arts education into their curricula and instructional practices;
  • parents and parent groups, to learn how arts education can benefit their children’s learning; and
  • school boards and policymakers, to help make the case for funding and policies that promote the arts in district classrooms.

Before Watching

The Arts in Every Classroom is based on the premise that the arts are valuable in themselves. Arts are essential to the development of people and their culture — and that is why arts should be part of every school’s curriculum.

In this program, educators and others point out that the arts also enhance learning in other areas. As you watch this program, consider these questions:

  • How do the arts contribute to students’ readiness to learn?
  • How do the arts promote a better learning environment?
  • How can the arts be used to improve student performance in other academic subjects, such as reading, math, science, and history?
  • Why are the learning goals described in the National Arts Education Standards important for all students?
  • How can teachers use the arts to advance effective instructional strategies such as inquiry-based teaching and learning?


Stephen Gonzales

Stephen Gonzales is the district arts coordinator for Denver, Colorado, Public Schools. He has headed up the arts education area of the Denver Public Schools since 1991. Before that he was a music specialist, teaching in high schools and junior high schools. Steve studied music at the University of Colorado in Boulder, graduating with a degree in music education. He has a master’s degree in education from Lesley College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He actively participates on various community boards and committees that are related to arts education, and is a member of the Music Educators National Conference. Steve feels that “the arts are an integral part of the learning process for all children.”

Q. When did your district begin integrating the arts into the curriculum? Was this a gradual process, or did it come about all at once?

A. We integrated the arts with an infusion program four years ago. It only addressed the middle-school level.

Q. Can you describe some of the key ways you integrate the arts into the curriculum?

A. We take a team of arts specialists in the visual arts, dance, drama, and media, and we make them available to regular classroom teachers at the middle-school level. For example, we had a science teacher who wanted to do the periodic table of the elements and said that was a very difficult thing for kids to memorize. So our team went in there, and we had them divide the periodic table by groups of kids, who all helped make a quilt of the periodic table of the elements. By the time they were done, not only was it a beautiful piece of art — they took their time on each of the elements — but they then took the time to learn everyone else’s. By the time they hung up the quilt, they found that they all had memorized and were very well aware of all the elements on the chart.

Q. What do the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) state exams cover? Who is tested and when?

A. CSAP focuses on reading, writing, and math. Students at all grade levels are tested. When they first started last year, they tested specific grades. It becomes more inclusive as time goes on. It ends up including all the grades.

Q. You describe the four segments of arts education: arts education, arts in education, arts enhancement, and arts activities. How is each offered in your district? How do the four support each other?

A. If you have a certified arts teacher — and when I say arts, I’m talking about music, visual arts, dance, drama, or any of the arts — and they are delivering the DPS [Denver Public Schools] curriculum of their particular arts area tied to the DPS standards, that’s arts education. Arts education is assessable. Arts in educationis when other subject areas use the arts as a conduit for learning. Arts enhancement is when we take kids to, say, the Colorado Symphony, the Denver Art Museum, or the Colorado Ballet. And then, surely in any classroom, whenever they trace around their hand to make a turkey, that’s an arts activity.

All four of those components are in play right now. You can offer one segment without the other. In a lot of cases, arts activities happen in schools where arts education is not there. The activity says the kids are doing something, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to learn anything. You can have a child draw a beautiful picture, and let’s say there’s a certain perspective in it. If the child can explain and discuss the perspective, he has experienced not only an arts activity, but also arts education. What we would like to have is a healthy portion of all four components so they do support each other.

Q. How do you build or maintain support for an arts curriculum with district leadership or parents?

A. The support is there. If you ask people whether they think the arts are important, the heads will go up and down in agreement. Ask them whether they value the arts, and the heads will go up and down.

But in terms of making it a priority for funding and getting it done, the heads don’t go up and down anymore. When a school district like ours, an inner-city district, faces a public judgement based on CSAP scores, the priority is going to be reading, writing, and math. All dollars and all kinds of things are going to go toward that. The arts are secondary to that.

You have to educate the different communities — communities of teachers, administrators, parents, and professional organizations — about the importance of the arts and how the arts are integral to success in those other academic areas. Once we can get people to understand that, then they understand that the arts represent a necessary component to getting to the CSAP scores.

Featured Approaches

Observations From Administrators

Stephen Gonzales, district arts coordinator, Denver Public Schools, Denver, Colorado

Teaching and learning related to the arts takes a variety of forms, says Stephen Gonzales. These include:

  • classroom projects using arts materials that are not necessarily related to arts curriculum goals,
  • arts-related enrichment such as trips to the symphony,
  • using the arts as a conduit for learning in other subject areas, and
  • using a teacher certified in an art form such as music or dance to deliver a curriculum based on local or other standards for the art form.

Arts education has a positive impact on children’s performance on the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP), says Gonzales. Children with exposure to the arts “are more enlightened or prepared to learn, or have more tools to learn,” he adds.

About the value of the arts in education, Gonzales says:

“That’s who we are as human beings. … We are the arts. [The arts are] an excellent chronological history from the beginning of time to today. We’re expressive. We have feelings, we have conceptualization in our minds — all of those things are the arts. So, in education, art becomes a very important and vital component because that’s how kids learn.”

Kathleen Hurstell Riedlinger, principal, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana:

“The arts … have not only given a spirit and a life to our programs that to me makes it magical, [but also, in subjects such as] language arts, math, science, and social studies, we find that kids are taught better when they’re taught through the arts.”

Martha Rodriguez-Torres, principal, P.S. 156, The Waverly School of the Arts, Brooklyn, New York:

“By putting the arts in, the children were able to have success in something that was fun for them. … We added a writing component so the children could begin to write about the arts. … Then they started thinking about it and doing all kinds of other things through the whole curriculum. And it has had a great impact on them.”

Sandra McGary-Ervin, principal, Harmony Leland Elementary School, Mableton, Georgia:

“Our transiency rate was 33 percent. … Now it’s down to 14 percent. I’m building a stable community. So I’m watching the arts change my entire school climate. The confidence level and self-esteem of the children … transfers over to the regular classroom.”