N.Y. District Teaches the World to Students
If today's economy and business trends are any indication, the lesson that the world is interconnected is becoming a mainstay of the social sciences. But one high-performing Long Island school district is taking cues from globalization and also applying international studies to a more hands-on discipline—the arts.
The Herricks Union Free (N.Y.) School District, whose student body is more than half Asian, began a dual-language initiative for the 2007-2008 school year requiring all sixth-graders at its Herricks Middle School to take art in French, Spanish, Italian or Chinese. It is just one in a districtwide rollout of global efforts undertaken to integrate international studies into every aspect of the curriculum.
Under the program, students alternate taking their regular foreign language class with a language-infused art class that is team-taught by their language teacher and the art teacher.
Spanish and French teacher Tom Coleman regularly teaches lessons on Mardi Gras, but says he could never incorporate the celebration’s signature arts and crafts into his classes because “I’m not an artist!” But now he says students can receive a supplemental, comprehensive artisticstyled education on the subject that includes papier-mache plates and masks.
In one French/art class, students prepared to create a Haitian-style painting by reviewing photos of indigenous plants and Haitian rainforests and beaches projected onto a screen.
The school district—which was once primarily Jewish, Italian and Irish but shifted with an influx of Korean, Indian and Chinese immigrants in the late 1980s—also reached out to the Manhattan- based Foreign Policy Association to redesign its social studies curriculum and include new courses in contemporary foreign policy and world philosophy, but has not had to directly spend any of its $87 million annual budget on its global efforts.
Superintendent Jack Bierwirth says the district began developing a more global curriculum not just because of its diversity but also because parents and teachers wanted to demand more from their students.
Bierwirth says the sixth-grade language/art classes are equal parts instruction in language, arts language, and the culture, art, and customs of the foreign countries themselves.
“We really wanted to bring it all together,” he says, “especially the many different cultures.”
Lori Langer de Ramirez, the district’s foreign language director, says a key goal for the current year will be expanding the repertoire of the program and developing an even broader set of curriculum standards, and introducing its immersion ethodology across all grade levels.
Integrating the Arts with Flair
Children throughout the 7,500-student Greenville (Miss.) Public Schools, the second largest district in the state, are reaping the benefits of an arts-integrated education, thanks to the pedagogical stylings of Washington, D.C.-based educational consultant Marcia Daft.
“Every classroom learns better if the arts are part of the learning process. That transcends private school, public school, economics,” said Daft at a recent series of workshops in Greenville.
Daft specializes in using the arts to teach math, language arts, social studies and science. Students of the educators she’s trained have learned about negative and positive numbers by dancing along a number line, and have combined singing with poetry composition.
Daft says the largest barrier to arts integration is classroom management, as students can become so excited about what they are learning that teachers struggle to manage the classroom enthusiasm.