At Lafayette, Arts Integration Takes Center Stage 

Before DCPS designated Catalyst Arts Schools, Ward 4 elementary wove the arts into lessons

Photo by Fred Lewis
Lafayette Elementary School second graders perform for parents and teachers May 23 at the Ward 4 school’s annual Arts Night, a showcase of student talent.
Photo by Fred Lewis
Lafayette Elementary School second graders perform for parents and teachers May 23 at the Ward 4 school’s annual Arts Night, a showcase of student talent.
Photo by Fred Lewis
Hundreds of parents, grandparents and siblings joined Lafayette Elementary School teachers and leadership May 23 for the Ward 4 school’s annual Arts Night. Lafayette has been weaving the arts – movement, dance, visual arts, and other forms – into the classroom curriculum and methods of learning for nearly a decade.
Photo by Fred Lewis
Lafayette Elementary School third graders perform for parents and teachers May 23 at the Ward 4 school’s annual Arts Night, a showcase of student talent.
Photo by Fred Lewis
Lafayette Elementary School student Sari Finn poses with one of her paintings May 23 at the Ward 4 school’s annual Arts Night, a showcase of student talent.

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When studying the Great Migration or the Great Depression, students could research those two transformative periods in American history and compose reports complete with statistics, images and a personal narrative.

But arts integration schools, such as Lafayette Elementary in Ward 4, take a different approach to the traditional lessons and student presentations that engage a variety of learning styles and give students deeper appreciation of subject areas.

“One huge difference [between arts integration and non-arts integration schools] is art and music are not standalone classes,” said Lafayette Elementary Principal Lynn Main. “Classes at Lafayette, for half the year, what they’re doing in arts and music is connected to reading, writing, math or literature.”  

Lafayette students, for example, will listen to and learn songs from the eras they study, examine and replicate the art created during those times, and delve into the lives of the people who lived through those events through literature.  

Add movement, dance, drama and other forms of art, and students get a comprehensive understanding of subject matter, tools for self expression and communication, an entry point for learning and exploring complex ideas.

“My personal philosophy is the arts are such a great tool,” said Jacqueline Snowden, arts integration coordinator for Lafayette Elementary. “It always amazes me the kids you reach. For me as a teacher, it makes things fun.”

Lafayette introduced arts education in its classrooms about eight years ago through a partnership with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Changing Education Through the Arts, or CETA, program, which provides courses and workshops that help teachers further develop and refine their skills for teaching in, through and about the arts.

During the 2009-2010 school year, DCPS created 13 theme-based Catalyst Schools, including four Catalyst Arts Integration Schools: Ludlow-Taylor Elementary, Tyler Elementary School, Sousa Middle School, and Takoma Education Campus.

When Lafayette Elementary first introduced the concept of integrating arts in its classrooms, school leaders received some push-back from teachers who had seen education trends come and go. Snowden said some teachers saw arts integration as one more thing to learn and teach.

“No teacher wants to be told, ‘Here’s another thing to do,’” said Snowden, who has been a teacher and coordinator at Lafayette for 25 years. “I’ve been trying to convince people that this is not something else to do, but a different way of doing what you’re already doing. It’s still a work in progress, but I’d say we’ve come pretty far.”

Before the school year begins, Snowden and Lafayette’s music and art instructors meet with classroom teachers from each grade level as they plan lessons for the school year to see where the arts can be integrated.

In kindergarten, for example, students studying the weather also work with their music teacher to create “soundscapes” – rhythms and sounds that tell a story – for different weather events.

Another technique Lafayette teachers use is the “Human Slideshow,” in which students hold different poses that represent a classic story from children’s literature. Students in the audience are asked to close their eyes momentarily as performers quickly change their poses. Audience members, again, open their eyes to see the second pose of the slideshow. The entire piece plays out like flip-book animation. Teachers also have used “Human Slideshows” to retell important events in Washington, D.C., history as well as Egyptian history.

This year, students in fourth grade have studied “Portraiture as Biography,” a CETA course.  Students visit the National Portrait Gallery and discuss what can be inferred by facial expressions, gestures, settings and the images that accompany the subject of famous portraits. Students then write a six-word memoir that tells the story of the person in the paintings they study, and create a collagraph, in which materials are applied to a rigid surface that can be used to make prints. Lafayette hopes to roll this out next school year for all grade levels.

“We think differently about how we plan those units, how they can be connected,” said Principal Main. “I see my classroom teachers as more capable and eager to add some kind of visual arts component to the projects they’re doing in class.”

When integrated into a challenging academic curriculum, the arts are simply used as a tool to engage the whole student – mind and body – in the learning process and add depth of knowledge.

“Part of why the arts are so useful for so many kids is its more tactile and kinesthetic,” Principal Main said. “We can spend more time on other types of learning, incorporating more intelligences than just paper and pencil.”

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