By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – During a lesson about Leonardo da Vinci last week, students at Thomas Street Elementary School donned 15th-century costumes and performed a play in which they met the famous Renaissance man.
Across town at Lawhon Elementary, students have learned action words this year by studying a painting with a scene and recording all of the verbs they can find in the artwork.
Tupelo Middle School students, as part of their study of the digestive system in science class, drew pictures of different organs on poster boards and hung them outside their door.
Although some Tupelo teachers have been integrating art in classrooms for years, this is the first year of a district-wide push for all pre-kindergarten to eighth-grade teachers to incorporate art when they plan instruction.
Students are using visual art, music, movement, drama and creative writing to learn reading, math, science and social studies.
“It stimulates parts of the brain that paper and pencil don’t stimulate,” Tupelo Assistant Superintendent Diana Ezell said. “It is a wonderful way to both challenge gifted students and to engage students with learning difficulties.”
The experience is nothing new to Thomas Street Elementary Principal Debbie Davis, who piloted an arts integration program with the Mississippi Arts Commission 13 years ago when she was principal at Pierce Street Elementary.
Davis has continued the program and took it with her to Thomas Street this year when she switched campuses during school reorganization.
Thomas Street is now a “model school” in the program, meaning educators from around the state visit it to learn how it is incorporating art.
Students in Cepia Buchanan’s first-grade class use equivalent fractions to make flags with geographic shapes, and those in Jeni Chandler’s second-grade class listen to music and compare what they hear to the different types of clouds.
Students of second-grade teacher Connie Buse used multiplication tables to design patterns on the wings of butterflies.
“Every day we learn, it is something fun,” said second-grader Janiya Thomas. “Instead of being boring, it is something fun.”
Teachers say they find that arts integration makes learning more relevant for students. Children retain material better because they relate it to a project they created.
They also develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Students who previously struggled have a new vehicle to display hidden talents.
Davis said the results are also evident in the high test scores Pierce Street students achieved.
“We are not just doing art to play,” Davis said. “We’re using it with a purpose to teach the state frameworks and the TPSD learning objectives and national standards.
“If I came into a meeting and told the faculty that we they didn’t need to do it anymore, they would say, ‘OK,’ and then they would go into the classroom and close their door and continue to use it because they believe in it and see the results.”
Other schools had used art in their classrooms in varying degrees through the years, but those efforts have become much more focused.
“I hope we can encourage creativity in children,” said Church Street Elementary Principal Kay Collins. “I think that is what is going to be needed in the future. They are going to need to think outside of the box. Hopefully the arts are a great way to teach that.”
Tupelo Middle School Principal Linda Clifton said the number of students failing classes has decreased this year since teachers have used arts across the curriculum. She also believes the emphasis has helped ease the transition to the school.
“It has made the kids more comfortable as they came into middle school,” Clifton said. “They seemed to relax and enjoy the classes, and it has gotten them into the curriculum more.”
At Lawhon Elementary, third-grade teachers Celeste Ellis and Christy Morgan both said that they have decreased their use of textbooks.
Instead, they’ve used songs where students add their own adjectives to describe a specific noun or games in which kids use prepositions to design a maze that another student must navigate.
“I’ve noticed that my classroom is more talkative but the talk is OK because they’re being more cooperative and learning from each other,” Morgan said. “They seem to retain the information better because it is fun.”
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or firstname.lastname@example.org.