ArtsBridge is an arts education and outreach program dedicated to providing high-quality arts instruction to K-12 schoolchildren through hands-on experiences in the arts.  The Lawrence ArtsBridge program creates K-12 school and university partnerships that allow Lawrence students (ArtsBridge Scholars) and K-12 supervising host teachers the opportunity to create and implement lessons that integrate the visual and performing arts with the daily curriculum in ways that address both specific classroom needs as well as state and national standards in the arts.   Over the course of a semester, ArtsBridge scholars spend 1-3 hours a week in the classroom introducing music, dance, drama, and visual art to create unique lessons in the arts linked to language arts, math, science, and social studies.  ArtsBridge allows university students the exciting opportunity to share their passion and knowledge of the arts with K-12 students in the local community.

Bridging University and Community Through the Arts

[Reprinted from the Summer 2005 issue of Lawrence Today magazine]

As with many such success stories, it began with a need and an idea. In the 1990s, public schools in California were struggling to maintain educational offerings in the fine and performing arts. School funding was tight and arts instruction was in jeopardy, especially at the elementary level and at lower-income schools.

Then dean of the School of the Arts at the University California, Irvine, Jill Beck, introduced the idea of a university-–K-12 collaboration in arts education that would provide hands-on experiences in the arts to school-age children by placing university students in classrooms as instructors and mentors.

Beck envisioned an arts education outreach program that, if adopted throughout the University of California system, would help alleviate the burden on the public schools and ensure the ongoing presence of arts instruction in the classroom.

“The arts are critical,” says Beck, “especially at a young age…Not only do appreciation for and mastery of the arts have intrinsic value on their own, but mounting evidence suggests that exposure to the arts contributes to learning overall through the development of skills in creative thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork. Those skills have direct application in math, science, and other academic subjects.”

From modest beginnings, ArtsBridge was born. Starting with a limited pilot program involving seven University of California, Irvine students in 1996, the program evolved under Beck’s stewardship into a nationwide network called ArtsBridge America involving 22 universities in 13 states and Northern Ireland.

Funded through foundation and corporate grants, as well as by the universities involved, ArtsBridge provides stipends to university students who participate in projects in the local schools. These ArtsBridge scholars, as they are called, work closely with teachers in designing projects that will complement or enhance the curriculum.

In January 2005, Lawrence University joined ArtsBridge America and became the first private institution to sponsor ArtsBridge activities. Thirteen students were selected as Lawrence’s first group of scholars — nearly all of whom are pursuing majors or minors in music education, performance, studio art, or theatre — and began teaching in the schools during Winter Term.

Throughout the winter and spring, the scholars engaged in nine different projects involving more than 300 Fox Valley students, from kindergarteners to high school seniors.

Leah Sinn, ’05, Bloomington, Ind., and Clare Raccuglia, ’07, Northfield, Ill., lent their musical and studio-art talents, respectively, to the African-American Quilt Project, involving nearly 100 second- and third-graders at four elementary schools that introduced the students to African-American history, jazz music, art, textiles, and quilt making. Students engaged in crafting sections of a quilt and creating a 12-bar blues song. The sections made by each class were then combined to create a collaborative quilt that was displayed in conjunction with the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum’s exhibition of “Bold Improvisation: 120 Years of African-American Quilt.” The ArtsBridge scholars and their pupils participated in a field trip to the museum to see the broader exhibit and their own contribution.

At Clovis Grove Elementary School in Menasha, students in Chris Otto’s fourth-grade class were involved in an unusual approach to studying life in the Caribbean. ArtsBridge Scholar Lukas Abrahamson, ’05, Appleton (pictured, right), led the students in an exploration of the culture and traditions of Trinidad and the region through the lens of music. They learned about the history of steel drum music and the popularity of steel drum bands, produced their own play, and spent a great deal of time learning how to play the tamboo bamboo (tamboo, from the French tambour or drum), which they performed with in the Memorial Chapel at the inauguration weekend ArtsBridge Day celebration.

Under the tutelage of Alison Vandenberg, ’05, an English major and theatre minor from Sheybogan (pictured, below left), high school students at the Appleton Area School District’s Renaissance School for the Arts engaged in the ArtsBridge project “Bringing History to Life on the Stage.” The students, in grades 10 through 12, conducted research into life in America in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Based on their research, the students wrote three original one-act plays, which they then performed for 8th-grade American history students from Wilson and Roosevelt middle schools.

“One of my students found a quote from Emma Goldman that stated all human beings have a right to freedom, self-expression, and radiant beauty,” Vandenberg says. “They took that and ran with it, using it as an organizing theme for the plays they produced — one on freedom, one on self-expression, and one on beauty. The freedom team crafted a play that spanned three decades and looked at differences in generational experiences, beliefs, and values within one family.”

Elementary-school students at Appleton’s Odyssey charter school and high school students at the Renaissance School participated in an ongoing ArtsBridge project called Picturing Peace. The brainchild of education professor Robert Beck, Picturing Peace grew out of an experimental program begun at the University of California, Irvine. With the support of a U.S. Department of Education Preparing Teachers to Use Technology grant, Beck set out to study how photography could be used to develop visual intelligence and critical appreciation of images among young children. In its second year, with the help of ArtsBridge America, Citizen Peacebuilders, and Professor John Cummins of the University of Ulster, the project expanded to involve fourth-grade classes in Belfast, Northern Ireland, thereby developing a cross-cultural component.

The next stage in Picturing Peace’s evolution was its introduction in the Appleton schools in early 2005. Asked to visualize concepts such as friendship, tolerance, and harmony, the students produced photographs of their various understandings of peace. With the help of former poet laureate of Wisconsin Ellen Kort, they also composed poems to accompany their images that explained and elaborated on the meanings depicted in their photographs.

The students’ artwork was presented as a traveling exhibit, first at the newly opened Paper Discovery Center in Appleton and then, throughout May, as a display on the Lawrence campus. Odyssey fifth-grader Damon Dickinson visualized peace in the form of a flickering candle flame, “lighting up the world” and “traveling around the globe,” while sixth-grader Beth Clarke photographed several of her classmates with their hands overlapping and clasped together. In her accompanying poem, Clarke wrote, “if your hands are the same as mine, why isn’t there peace?”

Through the auspices of President Beck as founder and director, Lawrence University is now the new national headquarters of ArtsBridge America. Plans are also underway to increase the number of Lawrence students participating locally in ArtsBridge projects.

“ ArtsBridge opens so many doors, for the students, their teachers, and the Lawrence scholars who participate,” says ArtsBridge scholar Vandenberg. “Host teachers benefit from the fresh ideas the ArtsBridge scholars bring, the students have the opportunity to engage in a type of learning experience never offered them before, and the scholars are able to integrate what they themselves have learned with teaching in a real classroom setting.”

“It’s amazing to see what the schoolchildren can do,” adds Vandenberg. The same could be said of the first group of Lawrence ArtsBridge scholars.

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