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Classroom arts integration takes center stage during MCPS seminar

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Julian Nickell, 7, looks to the book "Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King" for inspiration for his art project on King in Tricia Owens' second-grade class at Lowell Elementary School on Friday afternoon. Eight schools in Missoula participated in the Read for Peace event to honor King.

Arts are an “on-ramp” to math and science for students.

Sometimes, though, teachers stall and become anxious when it comes to integrating the arts into their classrooms.

“Drawing is only a tiny bit easier than doing math,” said Seena Demmons, an instructional coach at Missoula County Public Schools.

Start small and simple, Demmons said. Students will be engaged.

The advice came during Monday’s Arts Integration Seminar held at Russell Elementary School. Some 150 teachers and MCPS employees took part throughout the day, which included an overarching presentation on arts integration and afternoon breakout sessions on storytelling, dance, and using the arts in conjunction with science, technology, engineering and math.

The training event was the inaugural one for Missoula's Any Given Child program and was sponsored by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, University of Montana College of Visual and Performing Arts, Missoula County Public Schools and the Missoula Cultural Council.

Stuart Stotts, a national presenter for the Kennedy Center's education program, laid the groundwork for the afternoon sessions by defining arts integration and delving into how it fits with learning principles and best practices. Later in the day, he presented on storytelling.

So many people wanted to participate in the seminar that they had to be turned away because of capacity constraints, said Chris Neely, executive director for the Any Given Child initiative in Missoula.

The turnout shows just how hungry teachers are to provide more arts in their classrooms and the collaborative commitment to arts, Neely said.

Any Given Child seeks to give children exposure to the arts every day in an equitable way, she said.

“We’re a collective impact project, so we’re all banding together to solve that,” she said.

Teachers who attended the seminar now have tools to help students learn in a different way, she said.

“It’s an instructional strategy,” she said.

The arts reach and empower students who might otherwise be disengaged, Neely said.

“I believe that art has the power to save lives. That’s why I do my job,” she said.

Instructional coach Crista Anderson said she gained valuable information about arts integration as well as resources to use to help implement the knowledge in classrooms.

The day’s training also showed teachers the variety of possibilities.

“I think it also reminds us that art isn’t just one thing,” Anderson said.

So if drawing’s not your thing, no worries.

“There are ways to bridge across your comfort level,” Anderson said.

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