By Karen Campbell
Special to The Press
The return to classrooms in the fall may have a radically different look and feel as schools address potential gaps in learning and follow safety measures for coping with the ongoing threat of COVID-19. While the specifics of what that return may look like are still being discussed, Weakley County Schools is ready to explore creative options – including the increased integration of arts into the traditional curriculum.
In a recent Zoom interview with Weakley Arts Can co-presidents Julie Hill and Katie Mantooth, Weakley County Mayor Jake Bynum and Schools Director Randy Frazier discussed the barriers and benefits to incorporating more art into county classrooms.
Frazier acknowledged administrators and teachers are facing numerous uncertainties including what changes in scheduling would be required to make up for lost time from the spring.
“I think what’s important — because we are going to be so focused on recovering time and taking the most advantage of the time that we do have – is we can’t do all our subjects in a standalone setting. They are going to have to be more integrated now,” Frazier said in response to questions of how better to integrate the arts into Weakley County classrooms.
He noted that historically, arts teachers were asked to become familiar with subject matter standards outside their field of study and that many teachers already find creative ways to teach their particular subject area using the arts. In the coming days, he said arts teachers’ broader depth of knowledge and their own arts-based expertise will make them critical resources for ensuring that students do not lose opportunities to be introduced to the arts and that fellow teachers have options for providing active learning.
“Our Weakley County arts teachers are going to have to drive that conversation,” he said. “They know the different skills in their area of expertise. They can share those with teachers about how we can incorporate those things into a subject area (so that) it is a whole learning experience.
“A lot of our academic subjects are not active learning. When you incorporate the arts, now you have active learning that sometimes will allow the student to remember that learning much longer than they ever could in just a rote learning type setting.”
Bartlett City Schools found the value of training faculty in the use of the arts as teaching tools in a spectrum of disciplines when they became a recipient of an Arts360 Arts Integration grant. Their experience is the impetus for a free workshop for teachers that Weakley Arts Can, The Tennessee Council for Visual and Performing Arts Supervisors, and Bartlett City Schools are hosting online Tuesday, June 16, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Having seen the benefits of the ongoing collaboration with Weakley Arts Can since its inception two years ago, Frazier readily replied to the advocacy group’s request to promote the workshop with fellow district directors and even signed on as one of the sponsors.
During this workshop, virtual attendees will hear from Bartlett Elementary teachers on the impact of arts integrated schools and then participate in a discussion with Jamin Carter, a Kennedy Center teaching arts and national arts integration consultant, and James Wells, the Innovative Teaching and Learning Manager at Crayola.
As part of a virtual Zoom lunch, Weakley Arts Can will host a discussion on arts advocacy and plans for the upcoming school year. The video of the conversation with the county mayor and school director will be shown to launch the networking portion of the day.
Thus far, the relationship with Weakley Arts Can and Weakley County Schools has netted advancements such as music opportunities in every middle school, expansion of one high school’s theatre program to the county, the first countywide art show, and arts activities printed and distributed throughout the closure. WAC has also hosted the first ever Arts Advocacy conference at the University of Tennessee at Martin and offered art experiences at the Soybean Festival and Music in the Park.
Mayor Bynum called WAC a “benefit and asset for students, parents and the community at large” in the brief recorded interview.
Frazier noted that the relationship with the local arts advocacy group “has allowed us to refocus our vision. Sometimes we get so focused on the academic areas and the accountability that we have. We forget that there is a whole learning experience that needs to take place,” he said.
Speaking to Hill and Mantooth, he added, “You are helping us with a vision and helping be creative in trying to find different ways that we can access learning for our students who are interested in the arts. We’ve come a long way in a couple of years and I see this continue to blossom going forward.”
One potential next step identified in the video (available on YouTube) is a pilot between the University of Tennessee at Martin music program, which Dr. Hill chairs, and local schools.
Professional development credit is available for the upcoming workshop on June 16. To register, go to https://tinyurl.com/TNArtsWorkshop.
Editor’s note: Karen Cambell is the communications director for Weakley County Schools. She may be contacted by email at Karen.Campbell@wcsk12tn.net.