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Herriman Journal

Teachers are singing a different tune at new arts charter school

Oct 21, 2020 12:21PM ● By Jet Burnham

Upper-grade students explore reverse printing. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Evans.)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Teachers at Advantage Arts Academy, a new arts integration K–6 school in Herriman, love art. They are dancers, singers, thespians, musicians and artists, and they integrate music, theater, dance and visual art into every subject.

“What we teach is the curriculum; how we teach it is the art,” Principal Lisa Evans said. “Everybody is researching and working with the art integrationist and doing it in different ways but all four modalities are in every classroom.”

Students sing songs in math, dance in science, act out stories they read, and draw, paint and create to learn academic concepts. Classroom furniture is on wheels to easily clear a space to dance or accommodate a group art activity.

First grade teacher Annie Iverson uses music to signal transition times and to teach and reinforce academic concepts.

“I teach them songs all the time; it's one of my favorite things to teach young kids how to sing,” she said. “We do a lot of actions and movement with the songs. It makes it easier for them to remember things. I often will play my guitar with them, and they love it.”

Iverson said when they are having fun, students are more engaged in learning.

“I feel like all my kids are watching me and are with me when we are singing or when we're doing a dance movement,” Iverson said. “It helps them to actually stay focused and be with me as I teach.”

Even older students are motivated by this interactive style of learning. Fourth graders sing a song with actions to remember a math concept. Fifth graders learn a song and dance to remember the 50 states and their capitals. To reinforce what they learned about space in science class, sixth grade students made a paper mache replica of the solar system and created artwork to illustrate the phases of the moon.

“This is a really good opportunity for the kids to buy in to their own learning,” said fourth grade teacher Alyssa Gastelum. “They're really excited about the art projects, and they love to do art, music and dance. And so, when they know that that's going to be part of their day, every single day, they're more willing to work hard to get to that.”

AAA teachers encourage students to see mistakes as growth opportunities, to appreciate everyone’s differences and to celebrate their individuality.

“Art is all about self-expression,” Evans said. “If the kids can really look at themselves and evaluate how they see their environment, how they see a situation, then they'll be able to create something with it. Whether it's a painting, a mosaic, a dance, or a song, it's all their perception of their environment.”

Evans said students can look at the same thing and see something different according to their background knowledge, who they are and what they’ve learned at home. This applies to art as well as academics, such as reading comprehension. 

“The way you understand the story and the way you understand what the character is feeling is based on your background knowledge,” she said.

Students are encouraged to take pride in their unique perspectives. When they studied Hispanic cultures in social studies, Gastelum invited her Hispanic students to share some of their culture’s traditional foods, stories, music and dances with the class. Her students explore various cultures through art and music. While learning about the people of Gabon, Africa, students constructed their own African musical instruments. When the class read a Cuban story that mentioned a song sung to sell fresh, hot corn tamales, Gastelum grabbed her guitar and made up a tune which the class sang together.

Evans said the environment at AAA empowers students.

“Our goal here is to not only to create children that love art but also that they are personally strong children that can stand for what they believe and stand for their opinions, but they're open to others' opinions also,” Evans said.

For more information about Advantage Arts Academy, visit its website at advantagearts.org.

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