What will arts education look like in your community? What’s the story you want to tell about your project’s impact?

It’s fall term of 2020 and Elkton School students such as Kimberly are excited to be heading back to school. She is already signed up for classes, unaware that music and the arts might not have been an option at her school in the past. This is in part due to her education experience thus far – in elementary school, where she was able to have bi-annual immersion workshops related to music, theater, and visual arts, as well as project-based integration in her classroom. Or when she transitioned to middle school, and signed up for band after seeing all the opportunities it provided to older friends. Even this year, she has decided to join the after school choir, knowing that she’ll get to participate in a musical theater production as well. Her perceptions of music and career choices have been expanded with ready access to a stable music program and arts integration.

Elementary and middle school teachers at Elkton School District have been preparing lesson plans that utilize the arts to introduce and reinforce key concepts in their curriculum. Given past success, there will be regular collaborations between the music teacher and elementary staff, formally and informally. And with a culture of arts integration built into the school culture, it is easier to adjust and maintain arts programming in the event of staff turnover. The high school band program is thriving under the leadership of a fully funded certified music educator, and all students have access to after school lessons and group ensembles. Field trips to the Elkton Community Education Center and Shedd Institute are being planned, connecting students to the world outside of their classrooms. The annual partnerships with companies such as Missoula Children’s Theater are already in the calendar, which also helps build on the momentum felt over the last 5 years.

Additionally, community members are consistently interwoven into the schools – whether through textile art, volunteering with music lessons, creating films in robotics club, or accompanying performances. With the groundwork laid under the Studio to School initiative, these opportunities are supported through the work of the Elkton Education Additional Resource Foundation and their booster club that acts as an intermediary for artists and educators, building on the local wealth of knowledge. A math teacher teaching geometry can find examples of fractal art, the visual art of M.C Escher, or examples of geometrical music theory by calling on someone in the community who can share that information. A related result is that community spaces are no longer so siloed in their roles, as people further recognize the value in cross-collaboration.

When you walk down the halls of both Elkton schools, you are surrounded by vibrant artwork, sounds of the 4th graders learning recorder, witnessing a science class utilizing visual art to integrate learning about the natural world, perhaps receiving an informal performance by the high school band later in the day. Kimberly and her peers may or may not go into the arts field, but appreciate the role that the arts play in their life as a tool for self expression, a discipline, an opportunity for community. Teachers see tangible positive results in their students. Elkton School and the surrounding area have experienced having access to quality arts education, and are now prioritizing it further with sustainable solutions as a community.

Written by Megan Moran, with contributions from superintendent Andy Boe and community member Cynde Pakros