Philadelphia schools are taking a new approach to arts instruction by introducing students to art and music they can find in their own backyard. With the new Literacy Through the Arts curriculum, created with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, students in grades one through eight are not only learning about these local institutions but also about the musicians and artists whose work featured there.
At the beginning of the school year, students were issued an age-appropriate book written by specialists in the district, says Dennis Creedon, Philadelphia’s deputy chief of academic enrichment and support. The books cover everything from classical composers and painters to rock music and photography.
To tie in local history, the books also focus on Philadelphia historical figures Frances Anne Wister and Julian Francis Abele. Wister was a patron of the arts and Abele was an African American architect who helped design the city’s Museum of Art. “For the younger students, they act as narrators that explore Philadelphia’s arts history,” Creedon says. “It’s a way to get students inspired to visit the art institutions the city has to offer.”
Music and art teachers can use the program in their classrooms, but Creedon says it’s also intended for English classes to teach reading, writing, and vocabulary. After viewing artwork or listening to music, students are asked to write about the piece or create their own artwork. The books for grades four through eight have vocabulary words bolded throughout the text.
“Where logical, we integrated the timelines of artists and composers to show that art and music can often share a similar style,” Creedon says. For example, in the fifth grade book, the lives and works of composer Claude Debussy and artist Claude Monet are compared, as both were figures in the Impressionist Movement who broke through traditional rules of music and art.
The books also purposely feature artists and musicians of various ethnicities, genders and time periods to better relate to all students, Creedon says. “We wanted to ensure that our students understood that the arts belong to everyone and that every student can grow up to be a musician or artist,” he says.