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April 28, 2014
The arts are flourishing in Grand Rapids and Bigfork Schools

Student fish image hanging in local storeWandering through the myriad of offerings during April’s First Friday Art Walk, visitors were treated to artwork reflecting the beauty of an adventure in the North Woods. These fantastic animal creations were not the work of professional artists, but were created by 4thgrade students at Southwest Elementary. Joined by Susan Hawkinson, author of Tina Christina Sestina: A Northwoods Adventure, which was nominated for a 2014 Minnesota Book Award, the students displayed illustrations of animals who call the area home.

The importance of arts in ISD 318 schools is reflected by the partnership between The Reif Center and ISD 318. Members of the Kennedy Center’s Partners in Education program since 2005, these two organizations are working together to infuse arts into everyday learning opportunities. "Classes in the arts are usually considered to be separate subjects in school, like math or language arts. They are actually an opportunity to teach and use skills and thought processes that are necessary in all areas of life, not just one isolated class during the school day," explained Partner team member Betsy Sween, Director of RJEMS Choirs.

The world-renowned Kennedy Center defines arts integration as “an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process which connects an art form and another subject area and meets evolving objectives in both.” This partnership between the Reif and ISD 318 forms the only non-metro collaboration in Minnesota.

The active partnership between the Reif Arts Council and ISD 318 helps support and create the energy necessary to infuse arts into our children’s education. “It’s not about changing what’s required, but rather new ways of delivering content,” said  team member and Reif Center president, David Marty. The Reif Center and ISD 318 receive training and access to Kennedy Center resources, but the hard work is done by the Reif, the District, and the teachers themselves. One of only 93 partnerships nationwide, the collaboration presents professional learning opportunities and new ideas of incorporating the arts to teachers. “Research shows that you reach more students at a deeper level when incorporating arts into education,” Marty continued. From visits to the Reif, to arts projects in the classrooms, to presentations from nationally recognized arts institutions, to artist in residency programs, the Partners in Education team provides chances for teachers and children to engage in learning through the arts. 

"The arts are not just expressive, but cognitive as well. Integrating the arts into a school's core curriculum can have many positive effects on students such as greater emotional investment in their classes, more diligence in their schoolwork and more opportunities to learn from each other. School work becomes more authentic and hands on,” said Partner team member Anissa Grotjohn, Director of RJEMS Bands. Partners in Education fosters this integration.

The ISD 318 Endowment also works to support these opportunities. One project recently receiving funding from the endowment, was the creation of dulcimers, a stringed instrument first appearing in the 19th century. Supported by volunteer teachers and parents, along with the Grand Rapids High School Key Club, this project not only taught kids about these historical instruments and their origin, but ran the gamut of core subjects. Math was used to make the instruments, and geometry blended into the design and painting of the instruments. The completed instruments are fully functional, and the children are learning to play the dulcimers, culminating in a small concert later this spring. 
Other examples of arts in the classroom include reinforcing lessons with art projects. Second graders, also at Southwest Elementary, completed a biography research project on a famous American. They read articles, web pages, and books to find out more about their person. The children also researched appearances of those historical times by creating and presenting a paper doll using at least three different mediums. Third grade social studies students at Bigfork created cuneiform tablets as a part of their studies of ancient civilizations.

The arts are flourishing at ISD 318 and Partners in Education will continue to “allow students to experience arts first hand, to create art, and to apply art cross-discipline,” said David Marty.