Why This Matters: ASC’s School Funding Opportunities program brings together Mecklenburg County educators and Cultural Education Providers to provide students with impactful, curriculum-based arts, science and history experiences.
By Lillian Parker
Forget the measuring stick.
Enriching students’ learning experiences occurs beyond what attendance rates and test scores can show us. Through ASC’s School Funding Opportunities program, students and teachers are diving deeper into the curriculum, bridging differences in language, learning style and developmental level through arts, science and history experiences.
“When I go into a classroom, my goal is to make a connection with every student,” said Mimi Herman, a Kennedy Center teaching artist and one of ASC’s 100 Cultural Education Providers.
“When you engage through the arts, the teaching and the learning goes deeper,” said another Kennedy Center teaching artist and ASC Cultural Education Provider Hobey Ford, a nationally renowned master storyteller and puppeteer. “The whole environment of a school can be changed by arts integration.”
Through ASC’s School Funding Opportunities program, schools can access professional artists, scientists, historians and other cultural providers like Herman and Ford for education-and-curriculum-specific programming. All accredited schools in Mecklenburg County that serve grades PreK-12, including public, private and independent schools, are eligible to request a set amount of funding each school year, on a first-come, first-served basis.
In the 2018-2019 school year, ASC’s School Funding Opportunities program served 68,000 students and 3,600 teachers across 150 schools in Mecklenburg County, including 139 schools in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools system and 61 Title 1 schools. Elementary and middle schools were eligible to request up to $2,000, and high schools could request up to $1,600.
“By working through various mediums of art, students learn how to look at things differently and see things from different perspectives,” said Dr. Barbara Ann Temple. ASC vice president of education. “The arts can motivate our students to go to school, stay in school, graduate and move on to pursue a world of possibilities.”
At Pineville Elementary School, multiple third-grade classes have worked alongside Ford to gain a deeper understanding of writing and storytelling by creating puppets, writing stories and performing shows for fellow students.
A teacher at Pineville Elementary School for 30 years, Mary Rutherford said the impact of Ford’s puppetry/storytelling residency is widespread, even reaching students and teachers who do not directly participate in the residency. Long after Ford has left the classroom, Rutherford’s third graders conduct performances for first-grade and kindergarten students and continue to develop their stories and puppet characters as part of Rutherford’s ongoing lesson plans.
“It’s creative problem solving to a capacity challenge,” Rutherford said. “It takes effort and work, but it is so worth it. Every kid deserves something like this.”
At Olympic High School, students in Suzanne Newsom’s ninth-grade English classes discuss complex ideas by becoming hypothetical immigrants to the United States in 1901 during Herman’s “Coming to America” writing and drama residency. Newsom said her work with Herman has transformed her teaching and encourages her students to see topics from a fresh perspective.
“What Mimi focuses on in the classroom is narrower and goes so much deeper,” Newsom said. “She helps students think about content in a different way,” taking classwork from the textbook to real-world scenarios, such as through her Coming to America workshop where students imagine life as early-20th-century immigrants to the United States.
Perhaps an arts-integrated cultural education residency’s greatest impact, as noted by educators and teaching artists alike, is in levelling the playing field, creating connection and sparking creativity where the standard curriculum may struggle to do so.
“Bringing arts into the curricular area excites students and encourages their creative energy, especially ELL (English-Language Learner) students and students with Autism” Ford said. “It can make all the difference for a kid.”
Rooted in collaboration and connection, ASC’s School Funding Opportunities bring together teachers and Cultural Education Providers to create and deliver the most impactful learning experiences. The experiences, in turn, plant seeds that educators can continue to cultivate in their students for years to come.
“I help students find their voice,” Herman said. “That makes them competent in whatever they do in life.”