The professional development exercise was all part of the school’s new designation as one of six Cherokee Academies.
Oak Grove and Hasty elementary schools will open their doors Aug. 1 as the district’s first two fine arts academies, while Ball Ground, Canton, Clark Creek and Holly Springs elementary schools will serve as the first science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM academies.
Fourth-grade teacher Ardis Lussier said she applied to move from another district school to Oak Grove this year to be part of the Academies initiative.
“All of this has been very inspiring,” Lussier said as she colored in big circles with a purple marker. “I can definitely use a lot of this in my classroom, like using movement to teach vocabulary or using different songs or choreography to teach the weather and life cycles.”
Lussier was one of 15 other Oak Grove employees who worked with ArtsNow, a nonprofit professional learning initiative focusing on integrating arts in the classroom, for a 2½-day program this summer at the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta.
“I moved here because I want to bring my 3-year-old daughter here,” Lussier said. “I have an art studio at home, and I think this is a more natural way for people to learn. Everyone loves music and going to the theater to see a movie.”
Another 12 of her peers will participate in the program in October, but all staff spent an additional two days at the school working with ArtsNow instructors on lesson plan ideas that involve integrating arts into the curriculum they teach.
Leading the instruction Thursday was Darby Jones, CEO and president of ArtsNow. He instructed the 40 Oak Grove staff members to take a closer look at their mock-Kandinsky’s compositions and allow their creative inspirations to guide them, rather than the rules of the assignment.
“What I often do with kids is encourage them to work intuitively,” Jones told the staff. “What happens is, 95 percent of the time, things will appear as they begin introducing these elements. Things will kind of happen and evolve through that creative process.”
Jones said ArtsNow has worked with 16 different school systems since it began its school programming in 2006. He said both Hasty and Oak Grove teachers have embraced the opportunity.
“So far, it’s been tremendous,” he said. “They have been extremely receptive and excited.”
Jones said he has found students often get more excited about learning required standards when they become invested in the material.
“One of the things that’s really tough about being a teacher is you get that student engagement at the beginning of a lesson and then it goes away,” Jones said. “We find that when (teachers) bring in the arts, you can get more of that engagement.”
After the workshop, the faculty had a movement class with Melissa Dittmar-Joy, a dance education consultant who also works with the Atlanta Ballet.
Oak Grove Principal Les Conley said the various workshops have helped his teachers learn effective ways to include the arts in their everyday instruction.
“For our students, I think it will be able to help them retain the knowledge, enjoy the lesson, improve their behavior as well as their overall academic success,” Conley said.
According to the Fine Arts Academy curriculum, every classroom teacher will provide integrated arts (music, dance, drama, visual arts, etc.) through academic lessons at least once a week.
The 451 students at Oak Grove are just a portion of the 2,761 students who will attend a STEM or Fine Arts Academy this year. Teachers at STEM schools also attended workshops over the summer and will receive supplemental instruction throughout the year.
To expand the Cherokee Academies initiative next year, the school district will also offer one robotics and engineering eighth-grade course at each middle school.
During the 2014-15 school year, every middle school will provide other STEM course offerings.