Elementary-school educators learn how to use
the arts to teach other subjects
Elizabeth Maupin | Sentinel Staff Writer
May 13, 2008
Kenneth Vailant, 9, and his 3rd-grade class
learn about Foley artists by creating sounds
listen to a book being read by Palmer.
GONZALEZ, ORLANDO SENTINEL/April 29, 2008)
In a fifth-grade classroom at Aloma Elementary School, an experiment
is under way. Sixteen earnest students listen intently to a
piece of classical music that one pony-tailed girl describes
woo," like the sound of rain dropping on leaves.
A few minutes later, each child tries to form a sea creature
from a page of the newspaper -- tearing, folding, crumpling it
It's part of a pilot program to help classroom teachers learn
to teach everyday subject matter through the arts. Today the
kids are learning about environmental habitats. They're also
learning how musical expression relates to habitat and how to
create something with no markers, crayons or computer-drawing
programs in sight.
In Orange County, individual schools and their principals decide
how the arts are taught. The Orange County Arts Education Center,
a new partnership of the county and the public schools, has worked
to convince principals of the arts' intrinsic value and to show
them what programs -- grants, visiting artists, special events
-- are available.
Megan Dufour (left) and arts consultant Mary Palmer create a
puppet show and explore sound in Dufour's 5th-grade class at
Aloma Elementary School in Winter Park. Palmer was
how to use the arts in many lessons.
(ROBERTO GONZALEZ, ORLANDO
SENTINEL / April 29, 2008)
"We're not trying to make them art teachers," says
Mary Palmer, former dean of the college of education at the University
of Central Florida. "We're trying to make them better classroom
Palmer's program, called Through the Arts, is part of a larger
thrust to make sure that all Orange County students have equal
access to the arts.
"I have had principals who said 'I had no idea this was
out there,' " says Scott Evans, a former teacher and now
director of the center, which opened in January.
Numerous studies have proven that the arts help students learn.
One key survey of 25,000 students showed that those who are highly
involved in the arts do better in school than those who are not.
Although 2001's No Child Left Behind Act listed the arts as
a core subject, many school systems don't follow those directives.
That has led, Palmer said, to "an insidious erosion" of
"There's an arts gap in American schools," Palmer
told a group of teachers and principals in training for the program. "Wealthy
schools have good arts programs, and poor ones do not."
Evans' office -- which sponsors an annual principals' breakfast,
an arts-education job fair and a summer-camp fair aimed at parents
-- has been instrumental in helping to bring Palmer and her associates
to Aloma Elementary and Ivey Lane Elementary, the two schools
chosen for the Through the Arts pilot program. Orange County
has funded the program with $20,000 this year.
Along with Palmer, Aloma is hosting working artists from the
Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, Orlando Shakespeare Theater,
Voci Dance and other groups.
For some teachers, "it's foreign territory," Palmer
says. "But what I've seen is that teachers get re-invigorated,
and the arts level the playing field for the children."
Rosette Brown, principal of McNair Magnet School, an arts magnet
in Rockledge, told program trainees last summer that working
the arts into everyday classroom learning had reversed a period
of declining enrollment for her school.
"Through the arts we're able to tap into the learning styles
of all children," she said.
That's evident at Aloma, where just about every third-grader
in the room clamors to be given a noisemaker to reproduce the
sound of a snoring granny. The experience of using music to help
narrate a book, Palmer says later, helps them become more interested
"They had to collaborate and to accommodate each other," she
says. "We're trying with the arts to build this collaborative
Proponents of Through the Arts hope to raise outside money to
expand to two or three more schools next year. But impending
cuts in school budgets make the challenges greater than ever.
"With the budget cuts, I'm really concerned," Palmer
says. "As a state we seem to have lost sight of equity for
"We definitely have our work cut out for us. But at these
schools where we're working, I can see the difference. The teachers
are excited, and the kids are excited. And when the kids are
excited, they're engaged."
Elizabeth Maupin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or