When Superintendent Chris Ragsdale stepped into a fourth-grade classroom at Powder Springs Elementary School, students gathered around a table and role played as colonists to explore the historical causes of the Revolutionary War.
In another classroom, the Cobb County School District superintendent saw students learning math by reciting a rap song. Down the hall, students dressed as characters from “The Wizard of Oz” and answered questions from their classmates about elements of the famous book.
The learning methods the superintendent observed are part of the Powder Springs Arts Integration program, which they launched several years ago to boost early literacy.
“Arts integration really provides a way for students to demonstrate their learning in a unique and authentic environment. Students can show what they learn through dance; they can act it out; they can create an artwork, or they can sing a musical composition that was inspired by their learning of whatever topic they covered in class,” explained Laura LaQuaglia, Cobb supervisor of learning design and visual arts.
After Powder Springs teachers began integrating the arts into to the way they teach students general education content, the school district used a $652,000 KickStART grant from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement to help Powder Springs expand and three other schools build their own Arts Integration programs: Kennesaw Elementary School; Clarkdale Elementary; and LaBelle Elementary School.
The grant provided professional development opportunities for the teachers and field trips and art supplies for the students. The grant funds also allowed for art residencies at the local schools to help kick-start the arts integration programs.
Thanks to the early literacy art programs, Powder Springs teachers are able to engage students and increase learning by incorporating dance, theater, visual arts, and music, all while teaching Georgia standards.
Because of the success of the Arts Integration programs, Cobb has applied for a grant to add two additional schools: Birney Elementary School and Dowell Elementary School.
Cobb also wants to expand the program to include pre-kindergarten students.
Some of the students most positively impacted, according to LaQuaglia, have trouble sitting still at their desk. Others are kinesthetic learners. The Arts Integration programs at Powder Springs and the other schools give those students an opportunity to master the material using different methods.
“With Arts Integration, visual arts, music, art, and theater standards are connected with the general education content,” LaQuaglia added. “General education teachers are empowered to use those in a way that makes sense in their classroom to inspire student learning to a deeper degree. It increases the rigor among students. They are seeing how everything connects together in a real-world way.”
Incorporating the arts into lessons also helps students with disabilities or English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) students.
“They are able to communicate what they’ve learned and understand in a way that their teachers can see,” the art supervisor explained. “It’s great because the students don’t always have to demonstrate what they have learned through a test.”