The Power of Community: Professional Development in the Arts

An inaugural Arts Integration Conference held at the Chesapeake Arts Center (CAC) showcased the strength and excellence of the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative (AEMI)‘s collective knowledge and resources. Over the course of the day, Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) educators and CAC artists participated together in classes, learning to integrate three different art forms into other academic areas.

“This was actually the first time we brought these two groups together and—WOW—what amazing things happened!”

“CAC is a fantastic arts hub next door to all 12 AEMI schools, but there isn’t always time for teachers to experience all it has to offer,” said Hana Morford, YA Education Director, Statewide Initiatives. “Our goal for the day was to create synergy between the amazing CAC artists and AACPS teachers—giving them space to work together and learn from one another through the arts. This was actually the first time we brought these two groups together and—WOW—what amazing things happened!”

The teachers and artists rotated in groups throughout the workshops, spending equal time weaving and stitching with Katherine Dilworth, a Young Audiences fiber artist; learning the elements of dance with Lacey Sheppard, Arts Integration Teacher Specialist; and forming clay vessels with CAC artist Cami Ascher. Then, in the afternoon, the teachers worked in their school teams to write an arts-integrated lesson plan that connected to one of the three art forms. During this time, CAC artists were able to get a taste of arts integration and develop ideas on how they might integrate their art form with some of the teachers’ content areas.

Teachers learned weaving and different embroidery stitches with Young Audiences artist and Teaching Artist Fellow Katherine Dilworth.

As they engaged in the various art forms, ah-has and ideas filled the classrooms. Katherine Dilworth guided participants first in a weaving project using sturdy paper plates and colorful yarn, and later, in stitching. She shared finished samples with the teachers that focused on math and on literacy—incorporating felt and even beads into the designs. Her excitement was contagious. Working with burlap, needle, and thread, one history teacher imagined the possibility of students stitching constitutional amendments.

Chesapeake Arts Center artist Cami Ascher instructed participants in building with clay.

Teachers got their hands messy learning clay building techniques with Cami Ascher in the CAC’s ceramics studio. They rolled long snakes and coiled them into different shapes. They transformed balls of clay into pots and funny characters with big eyeballs. And they learned how to “scratch and attach” to create a strong bond between formed pieces of the material. Cami had lots of advice for the group: which clays to use if they have/don’t have access to a kiln, how to minimize mess, and how to preserve a project if more than a class period is needed to complete it.

Lacey Sheppard, Arts Integration Teacher Specialist in Anne Arundel County Public Schools, taught the elements of dance.

Lacey Sheppard divided participants into two groups for her workshop, each choreographing and performing an original dance for the other. They thought carefully about BEST: Body, Energy, Space, and Timethe elements of dance. Some stepped out of their comfort zones while others felt right at home in the limelight, but they all enjoyed the exercise in movement and the connections they could make through the art form to other classroom lessons.

One participant gained so much from the professional development workshops, she sent a note of appreciation the next day. “I just wanted to share that yesterday’s PD was by far the best PD I have ever been to,” she said. “I loved how you had us in groups that stayed together through the day. I am so excited to bring back new ideas to my school. Thank you so so much!”

Teachers traveled to different workshops in groups, allowing the educators to get to know each other as they learned and collaborated together.

Hana added, “It was so beautiful to see the AEMI community begin to take shape between teachers and artists!” And it is a community, we know, that will create so many opportunities in Northern Anne Arundel County. That is the power of the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative.

Learn more about the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative, its collective impact partners and the community it serves by visiting artsempoweredminds.org.

Step by Step: The Power of the Arts

Written by Barbara Krebs,
Young Audiences volunteer and Sunburst Society member

As a pair of dancers performed, a group of elementary school children sat, crisscross applesauce, watching their every move. Valerie Branch, a dancer and choreographer with Young Audiences had been working with the Belle Grove Elementary students in an artist residency made possible through the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative (AEMI). When the last notes faded away, Valerie asked the children what they had observed.

“They love each other,” one child offered.

“They share,” another chimed in.

Valerie Branch and a student from Belle Grove Elementary School demonstrating a “weight bearing” dance technique for the audience.

Then she asked the kids to explain what dancing techniques they had witnessed. “Negative space,” “weight sharing,” and “weight bearing” were some of the answers shouted out.

Next, she gathered a group of her second-grade students to pair off with each other to demonstrate some of those concepts. Once the children had done so, half of the students were instructed to use a frozen pose in a high, medium, or low position. The rest were to react to whatever their partner had created. With the new poses in place, she asked the other children in the assembly to discuss what they saw and how the partners had related to one another.

And, in true arts integration form, this exercise was not just about learning dance terminology and positions, but was tied to lessons at the school. This particular one was used in conjunction with a poetry-writing assignment in which the children described themselves through the creation of “I am” poems. Later, choreography was added to illustrate their autobiographical poetry.

Such was the back-and-forth learning that observers witnessed at the Arts Empowered Minds Announcement Event and Celebration on Friday, March 8. The group of educators, politicians, state and local arts administrators, and volunteers gathered at the school was celebrating a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), which will be used to expand arts integration and teacher professional development in Northern Anne Arundel County.

Pictured counter-clockwise from top left: YA President & CEO Stacie Sanders Evans, Matt Barinholtz of FutureMakers, AEMI Teacher Liaison Betsy Brininger, and Lacey Sheppard, AACPS Arts Integration Teacher Specialist

This is the third time that the NEA has awarded Young Audiences, the program’s managing partner, a grant for AEMI. This collaborative partnership between a wide array of arts and education organizations throughout Anne Arundel County seeks to “address the disparity in arts access–and associated gaps in student achievement–between students in Northern Anne Arundel County and the rest of the county.”

Arts Integration Teacher Mika Nakano (left) and Brittany Roger (right)

Now in its third year, AEMI has already racked up an impressive set of statistics. But even better than the numbers are the inspiring stories that teachers and administrators had to share during the event. Brittany Roger, a teaching artist with a scientific illustration background, spoke of bringing exotic animals (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, iguanas, corn snakes) to the classroom and allowing children to explore the creatures through sight, sound, touch, and smell. Afterward, the students draw and sketch the animals based on their observations.

Amy Goodman, who heads the math department at North County High School, told of her department’s initial skepticism about linking arts and math together. But as the teachers learned arts integration techniques and applied them in the classroom, they began to see students who had been turned off or struggling with math begin to make connections that helped them grasp the concepts they needed to learn.

Dr. Maureen McMahon,  Deputy Superintendent for Academics & Strategic Initiatives for Anne Arundel County Public Schools

And so, step by step, AEMI partners create opportunities for children to learn through the arts. Step by step, the Initiative changes minds about the importance of integrating the arts with reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. And, step by step, it makes converts of those who witness how the arts engage young minds and help them stay, not only focused on their education, but truly inspired to learn.

Learn more about the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative, its collective impact partners and the community it serves by visiting artsempoweredminds.org.