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Curriculum Update

Arts energize Mississippi’s core subjects

30 Mississippi schools are blending music, theater, visual art and dance into core subjects
The Whole Schools Initiative's arts program is helping drive up test scores in Mississippi schools.

The arts are driving up test scores and closing achievement gaps in more than 30 Mississippi schools that are blending music, theater, visual art and dance into core subjects.

The Whole Schools Initiative (WSI), run by the Mississippi Arts Commission, trains teachers to integrate arts into core subjects such as math, science, English and history. Becoming a “Whole School” requires a six-year training commitment from the school and district.

WSI also regularly hosts professional development sessions and retreats for all educators. Now in its 14th year, the WSI program is aligned to the Common Core standards and is open to all grade levels.

A WSI study revealed that the percentage of students scoring proficient or above on Mississippi’s standardized language arts, math and science tests was higher at Whole Schools than it was at schools that did not participate, says Jodie Engle, the initiative’s program director. And, the academic achievement gap for economically-disadvantaged students dropped or was eliminated in many WSI schools.

“A lot of our schools don’t have arts programs or don’t teach a variety of art forms,” says Engle. “Not only do we train teachers the basic elements of our four core arts disciplines, but also how to effectively include drawing or painting in math and theater in language arts.”

For example, teachers are using visual art to teach students math and geometry. Theater has also become a part of the schools’ history lessons: Many WSI schools host Mississippi Day, where students write and perform monologues about famous Mississippians.

“Overall, the arts are a great way to keep students engaged and to provide them with an outlet for them to demonstrate understanding and mastery of skills,” she says.