Our work in the Sisters Schools has been broad and deep. We are working on a long-term cultural shift in our District and community to place the arts and arts education as one of two core values defining what we believe and who we are as a community. Our partnership with the Sisters Schools District goes back 15 years. Although we have a trusting, successful, even “progressive” working relationship as a non-profit organization, changes to the District, administration and teachers have provided challenge along the way in implementation. Since we first visioned the initiative, these changes have provided obstacles to our plan; from classroom availability, commitments to other programming, class size, and the need to hire a new teacher, we learned that “change happens”.
We have been flexible and nimble in our plan, while moving forward with many elements.
In Sisters Elementary School, we have engaged a highly qualified teaching artist to bring foundational skills of visual arts into the classroom. She has proven herself an excellent resource to the students and teachers, and has been very well received. In year two, we are now planning on having her teach every day, so that every student receives visual arts education every three days as part of the wheel. (This year it was 1-2 days per month for every student)
In Sisters Middle School, our arts integrated specialist has been planning and working with 5th and 6th grade teams to implement arts integration in core content areas. This work has been slow in implementation as well, but we are planting the seeds for a much deeper experience in year 2. We have successfully worked with the middle school administration to shift their schedule to better accommodate our teacher to work with many classes. We have also had guest artists visit classrooms, and a music assembly take place to continue our plan for artist residencies. In the Spring we will continue with these visitations.
We decided we need to engage the District in the conversation on a much deeper level, and bring together all parties for planning meetings. On Jan. 11, we held team meetings with the entire grant team… 4 elementary teachers, 4 MS teachers, 4 art/music teachers, 3 administrators, 2 Science Club Reps., 2 SFF team members. As we planned this 2.5 hr. meeting, we considered several things. It was paid time for school staff, held off-site – included food and drink, all attended by invitation, and everyone came. Initially, we thought the agenda would be a visioning process for the implementation of the grant, but as we got closer to the date, we realized we were not ready to make decisions about implementation.
Some of the team members were well informed about the grant possibilities, but some did not have adequate information about the grant and the concept of arts integration. Two days before the meeting, we abandoned the agenda and created a new one, which backed up the planning to take care of some essential foundational work before proceeding. We felt like everyone needed to have an opportunity to learn more about each other, the nature of collaboration and the concept of being “in partnership” before we launched into the work itself.
This meeting was very productive and enlightening. We invited the school district supt. to set the stage – he shared about the district’s commitment to the arts and history of community support, and then we shared a brand new video SFF has produced about our history of support in the Sisters school and community in arts education. We had a Sisters Science Club Rep. share information related to the impact of music on brain development (he is a retired neuroscientist). Art specialists and arts integration folks shared ideas around the integration of arts into the core content areas, and teachers shared their experience thus far with these kinds of opportunities. We then divided into two teams, one elementary and one middle school, to discuss a series of prompts designed to stimulate thought around the nature of learning, and the essential elements of successful partnerships. It proved to be very productive time.
On Feb 24, we held a follow-up team meeting with the entire grant team (with OCF evaluation team members Kim Leonard and Holly Kipp present), and this time giving them the opportunity to engage in the vision and planning for the next 4-5 years. This work has proven to be critical to the long-term plan and sustainability.
We now have two more meetings planned in April to finish our 4-5 year visioning plan. This will put in place the programming we not only originally envisioned, but new elements to make it even better, based on the collaborative process with our partners. We have learned that to help with a paradigm shift in the value of arts education, we needed to bring all parties to the table. This year has proven to be a “sifting through” of what is presently being done, making a flexible plan that can accommodate change, and delivering excellence in arts education to prove the effectiveness on student achievement and school engagement. We look forward to developing our plan and implementing exciting initiatives next year, while continuing the work being done to fulfill the vision we have developed together.