Summer Arts Academy

A Teacher’s Story

by Tracey Cooper, Science Teacher at Oxon Hill Middle School and Site Director of Young Audiences’ Summer Arts Academy

I am a wife, mother, and educator. I have spent the past 14 years in Baltimore City as a science teacher, department head, and district coordinator for summer programs.

When I graduated from Towson University, I wanted to leave my mark and change the world. I wanted to instill a love for science and learning.  I thought I had everything I needed – plus an amazing collection of professional attire! Reality, however, did not get the memo. That first year was a bust!

I followed the lessons in the book, but most students were not engaged.  I gave up my *beloved* summer vacation to teach science in summer school, hoping to learn alternative ways to deliver the lessons. That first summer, I had 20 students on my roster and a binder full of stock lessons. Only 9 students attended. Only 4 of those 9 passed. Another bust.

Over the years, I improved my lessons and grew in my profession. Student achievement increased, but I wanted more. Eventually, I became a coordinator for summer programs at Baltimore City Schools. And the year I met and collaborated with Young Audiences of Maryland, I fell in love.

Over the next few of summers, I worked with Young Audiences revising the way we did things in summer school.  Artists were more actively involved in the content classes and were not just providing enrichment for students.  We initiated a co-teaching model between artists and the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) instructors.

Summer Arts Academy
An Academy student shows off her hand-built clay sculpture.

Attendance soared.  The attendance rate was the highest we had seen over the past three summers. Students who were enrolled in the arts-integrated lessons did better on their math and science tests. I finally saw that education could be fun and creative for both students and teachers. Artists and teachers maximized their professional abilities through collaboration and support, creating a rich tableau of experiences for students.

This past summer, Baltimore City Schools asked Young Audiences to develop a more comprehensive summer learning program. Although I had different plans for my summer, how could I pass on the opportunity to work as a site director with Young Audiences of Maryland?

The result? The Summer Arts Academy: a fully arts-integrated summer learning program that provided a dynamic, creative, and supportive environment for students to learn about the creative process and grow socially, emotionally, and academically.

Teachers received dynamic training from the Maryland State Department of Education and planned integrated lessons with engaging strategies that included movement, rap, and improv! Each week, teachers reflected on their work with the teaching artists, modifying, as needed, both teaching practice and student process. Other summer learning sites had discipline issues, but our students were too busy learning and having fun.

Summer Arts Academy
Young Audiences Media and Digital Arts teacher, Ras Tre, demonstrates filming techniques for an Academy student.

This experience has inspired not only students but also teachers.  As an educator, I see a new way to instruct our children and make an impact. I now use the arts integration techniques I learned over the summer to encourage and empower students and teachers.  Young Audiences’ comprehensive approach to arts integration maximizes the learning process for educators. With the help of Young Audiences, students may have found a love of learning, but I have been renewed in the art of teaching.  Reality seems to have finally gotten the memo!

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YA Forges New Arts Integration Partnership

Young Audiences and Prince George's County Public Schools Forge New Arts Integration Partnership

A teacher from Oxon Hill Middle School personally thanked Young Audiences during a post-event gathering for bringing the Literature to Life program to Prince George’s schools. After a performance of “Black Boy,” a verbatim adaptation and stage performance of the classic American literary work by Richard Wright, he said he saw one of his students carrying around the Richard Wright book. When he asked the student about it, the student said he decided to read it after seeing the performance.  The teacher noted that he didn’t read that book until college and said, “This is what Young Audiences does for our students.”

On November 17, Young Audiences of Maryland and Dr. Kevin Maxwell, CEO of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), announced the launch of a new arts integration partnership at a press conference held at Oxon Hill Middle School.

This new initiative will benefit more than 15,000 Prince George’s County Public School students in the 2015-2016 school year and dramatically increase student student access to the arts.

Dozens of teachers, principals, and PTA members were in attendance, along with school board members and PGCPS district office personnel. The event attracted the attention of local media outlets, including WUSA, a CBS news affiliate station in Washington, D.C., who ran a segment on the new partnership during their morning news coverage on November 17.

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In the true spirit of Young Audiences, this was not your typical “black-tie” press conference. The room was filled with music, dance, laughter, and inspiring stories. Student performances from Oxon Hill Middle School’s Performing Arts Academy opened the event, showcasing the talents of the school’s students through music and dance performances. Young Audiences’ teaching artist Ssuuna engaged the audience in an interactive, call-and-response performance of music from his native Uganda with authentic African instruments.

Young Audiences and Prince George's County Public Schools Forge New Arts Integration Partnership

With media cameras rolling, Dr. Maxwell spoke passionately about the importance of partnering with Young Audiences to bring high-quality arts programs to more PGCPS students. Integrating the arts into classrooms is not only critical to increasing student achievement and engagement; it is an essential component of every student’s education and maximizes the talents of all students.  Dr. Maxwell’s belief in the importance of the arts-in-education—and the exceptional teaching artists and arts-in-education programs that Young Audiences provides—will ensure that all students have the opportunity to experience this critical part of their education.

Stacie Evans, Young Audiences’ Executive Director, echoed Dr. Maxwell’s remarks, saying:

We believe that artists are catalysts in our schools. Through their art form they develop new approaches to teaching the curriculum. They inspire children. They help reach the most reluctant and struggling learners. From the beginning, Dr. Maxwell made it clear that the arts are a priority and he welcomed community partners to be part of the solution to ensure that our kids receive a complete education.  As a result, 15,000 more students are benefiting from Young Audiences programs this school year alone.

Additional speakers included Mr. Wendell Coleman, Oxon Hill Middle School Principal; John Ceschini, Arts Integration Officer for PGCPS; and Tracey Cooper, Oxon Hill Middle School science teacher.

Young Audiences and Prince George's County Public Schools Forge New Arts Integration Partnership

Young Audiences’ teaching artist Kevin Martin closed out the event with a steel drum ensemble of Oxon Hill Middle School students.  These students—who jumped on stage to perform just hours after learning to play the steel drums—soon became the teachers. The steel drum performance culminated with Kevin inviting audience members, including Dr. Maxwell, to join a student at their drum and follow the student’s lead in learning the song.

A teacher from Oxon Hill Middle School personally thanked Young Audiences during a post-event gathering for bringing the Literature to Life program to Prince George’s schools. After a performance of “Black Boy,” a verbatim adaptation and stage performance of the classic American literary work by Richard Wright, he said he saw one of his students carrying around the Richard Wright book. When he asked the student about it, the student said he decided to read it after seeing the performance.  The teacher noted that he didn’t read that book until college and said, “This is what Young Audiences does for our students.

Young Audiences and Prince George's County Public Schools Forge New Arts Integration Partnership

From theatrical productions that bring American literary masterpieces to life, to artist residencies for kindergarten students that inspire environmental citizenship, this new partnership with Prince George’s County Schools significantly increases access to arts learning for thousands of PGCPS students and leverages the talent of 20 teaching artists, the resources of six private and public funders, and advances the goals of PGCPS and YA to transform the lives and education of all students through the arts.

Research shows a direct connection between participation in the arts and student achievement. Research also shows having the arts in schools contributes to positive school culture and builds the creative and critical thinking skills that our workforce needs. Despite these benefits, student access to the arts as part of their education has declined. Young Audiences is honored to partner with Dr. Kevin Maxwell, named a Champion of Change by President Obama for his dedication to the arts, because he is committed to ensuring that PGPCS students are not denied the arts as part of a complete education.

Powering Arts Integration with Innovative Programming
Young Audiences’ programming for PGCPS will combine arts learning with traditional subjects such as science, math, and reading, expand in-school opportunities for professional teaching artists, and include further arts integration advancement through strengthening teacher preparation and professional development. Program areas to include:

GROWING UP GREEN
A Kindergarten-level environmental literacy program that supports a thematic approach and addresses the Maryland Environmental Literacy Curriculum Standards. Curriculum will be developed collaboratively among partner organizations and, following a successful pilot of the program, will later be infused into the kindergarten science and social studies core content areas. Financial support provided by BGE, Chesapeake Bay Trust and Maryland State Arts Council Artist in Residence Program.

LITERATURE TO LIFE
Through our unique combination of interactive theater, literature, and education, Literature to Life brings American literary masterpieces to life —giving voice to words and inspiring young people to find their own voice. Financial support provided by Laura Handman and Harold Ickes, Lisa and Porter Dawson, and other generous supporters.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
A series of professional development workshops designed for schools in their first year of joining the “Arts Integration” initiative. Educators will define and discuss the benefits of arts integrated teaching. After experiencing a sample drama and language arts lesson, teachers will brainstorm and apply creative challenges in their specific curriculum area. Program facilitated by Teaching Artist Institute.

Young Audiences and Prince George's County Public Schools Forge New Arts Integration Partnership