As far as the group of Lawrence Elementary School kindergartners and first-graders were concerned, they were just clapping, counting, dancing and getting to know Mother Goose at an afternoon gathering last week.
What the children probably did not realize is that they were learning valuable lessons about rhyming, memorization, counting, letter recognition and speaking and listening skills.
The man leading the lesson in disguise was Thad Beach, a lyricist and artist who is among the many talented people contracted through Arts Partners, an organization that sends artists to Wichita area classrooms.The program was developed in 1995, made possible by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Its purpose is to provide a districtwide arts education program for children in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the Wichita public schools. Arts Partners has about 32 artists on its roster who create programs that use art to help teach subjects like science, reading, social studies or history.
Katie Lynn, executive director of Arts Partners, said the artists use their talent to connect with kids in a unique way.
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"Students learn in so many different ways," she said. "Arts Partners programs offer students exciting and creative ways of learning that use different methods and are outside of the box."
Teachers can browse the Arts Partners directory and find artists and programs that fit into their courses and will hit upon the specific requirements needed, Lynn said. Each school has an Arts Partners liaison that works with teachers to find a program that is within the budget and fits into the class's curriculum.
"Our artists will work with the teachers in the classroom and demonstrate how that teacher can use those same creative methods even after the artist has gone," she said.
Arts Partners is an affiliate of the national organization Young Audiences Arts for Learning — the nation's largest provider of arts education services to schools.
"Young Audiences was started in 1952 by lovers of classical music who were concerned that students were not being exposed to enough classical music," she said. "Over the years, it evolved into an organization that focused on arts integration in school curriculum.
"Nowadays schools cannot take time from the classroom for activities that are not relevant, so we make sure that our artists' programs are all relevant to the classroom curriculum."
Although Arts Partners hasoffices in the USD 259 building, it is a separate nonprofit organizationthat is financed by private donations and grants, as well as by individual schools. Schools pay for Arts Partners services through Title 1 funds, Parent Teacher Organizations and school fundraisers. Tunes on the Tarmac, an annual spring fundraiser, also raises money for Arts Partners.
The artists are as varied as the programs and skills being taught. There are painters, potters, storytellers, musicians, engineers, singers and magicians. Artist Amy Kaspar Woolf is a puppeteer who holds a master's degree in library science. Her programs revolve around narrative and storytelling, which she uses to promote phonetic and auditory awareness.
"This is so important, especially to young children who are developing their speaking and presentation skills," she said.
Another artist involved in the program is Aaron Fowler, who often promotes studies of other cultures, histories and traditions through his use of song, storytelling and various musical instruments.
He also partners with musician Richard Crowson for a program called "Pete and Woody," featuring interactive concerts with songs about historical events such as the civil rights movement or the Vietnam War. The program brings long-ago eras to life for students through song and music, Fowler said, which helps children retain information, he said.
Getting the word about Arts Partners out to schools and parents, Lynn said, is one of her top priorities.
"We would like for as many people as possible to know that Art Partners is available. We are always so happy to come out and give presentations to schools and Parent Teacher Organizations on what we do and how students and teachers benefit from the teachings of our incredibly talented artists."
For more information on Arts Partners or to view their directory, visit www.artspartnerswichita.org or call 316-262-4771.