Written by Jaime Clough
The 2nd grade Baltimore City Public Schools teacher spoke about how the tools she learned at Summer Arts & Learning Academy have informed her teaching and transformed her classroom at Young Audiences’ annual Impact Breakfast earlier this month.
“Buffalo Woman, go,” Mr. Briggs nudged me. I stepped onto the stage, took a deep breath, and began my lines. I was eight and dressed in a leather Native American dress with beads and fringe. I was shy, but I had done the work. By the morning of the production, I had read primary texts, written a research paper, and created my own costume. So, when I stepped onto that stage, I was not timid or nervous, but passionate and proud. This was my first experience with arts integration.
Fourteen years after my role as the Buffalo Woman, I was accepted into Teach for America Baltimore and began teaching at Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School in Charles Village. My students are diverse. One walked with her family from Mexico to America. One, who cannot yet read, learns in the same space as another, who is reading Harry Potter. Some of my students come to school without having eaten since the night before. Others rarely have clean uniforms.
I knew what I wanted to do in my classroom, but I didn’t have the tools to execute my ideas.
It was last March that I found Young Audiences. They matched me with fiber artist and Young Audiences teaching artist Katherine Dilworth, and together we went through a one-week professional development class. I learned how to use song and rap to teach students multiplication, and theatre to understand points of view in a story. During Summer Arts & Learning Academy, for the first time, I taught the way I had always wanted to teach.
As part of our literacy unit, students read City Green. To help kids understand the message of the book, “what makes a community?” and connect with the characters, Katherine and I planned a lesson around creating a community garden out of woven flowers. We’d use our art standards to create ABAB patterns and connect math standards for adding and subtracting the strings.
We had one student in the class with lots of sensory difficulties. He had challenges with personal space, with expressing his emotions, and would often just put his head on his desk. As he began to wind thread through his loom to make his flower, I was ready for him to say, “It’s too hard,” and stomp away. After 15 minutes of weaving blues and purples, a pattern emerged. His flower was taking shape beautifully. He was adding and subtracting, counting his strings, and weaving the pattern. Absorbed in his work, he sat without prompting for the longest amount of time since I had known him. “Ms. Clough, look! Ms. Clough, I did it,” he said. “I made my flower and it’s so cool!” That was the spark.
From that moment on, my student was different. He raised his hand. He worked with partners. He asked questions about how to make his work better. Without that moment at the beginning of summer, we would not have seen a change in him. The arts gave both him and me the tools we needed to help him succeed.
My classroom after SALA is a different world. Teaching through the arts doesn’t just work for some students, it works for everyone. I have the highest engagement I have ever had, we are on track to grow two years in one school year as a class, and there is a spark in every single eye in the room when I write the lyrics to a “Ms. Clough Original” on the board. iReady, ANET, and DIBELS tests do not make us anxious anymore. When we walk into the computer lab, my students cheer because now they know they can do it. They are confident because they know their math and reading strategies from the songs, skits, and choreography we use every day. The successes and swagger among students in my classroom are because of the skills I gained while teaching with Young Audiences. Now, my dream is to be a principal so that I don’t just have a classroom of sparks, but a whole school of them.
Jaime Clough is a 2nd Grade Teacher at Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School and Summer Arts & Learning Academy Classroom Teacher. Her first-hand experience is a testament to the power of arts integration in the classroom and is an example of the incredible strides a class can take both emotionally and academically when children learn through the arts.