Collaborations: Teachers and Artists (CoTA), a nonprofit professional development organization that pairs teaching artists with elementary school teachers to make the arts a lively, essential, and ongoing aspect of elementary school education, has selected three San Diego County public elementary schools to receive approximately $200,000 each in professional development training. A consortium of individuals and foundations is funding the three-year initiative.
Elementary schools Park Dale Lane in Encinitas, Explorer Charter in Point Loma, and Flying Hills in El Cajon, were selected as “Beacon Schools.” The project will involve professional development workshops and one-on-one collaborations between artists and teachers over three years. CoTA artists will train classroom teachers and parents in arts-infused instructional methodologies that are aligned with critical thinking and 21st century learning skills.
“The goals and methodology of CoTA are designed to enhance creativity, problem solving, student engagement, and communication and are precisely in line with the new Common Core standards,” said Dennis Doyle, executive director of CoTA. “This initiative will enable teachers to infuse their classrooms with arts-rich learning strategies and projects long after the professional development has ended,” he said.
Jeremy Lyche, principal at Flying Hills Elementary, echoed the sentiment of each of the principals when he said, “The staff and parents of Flying Hills Elementary School are ecstatic about being selected as a CoTA Beacon School. The intensive, hands-on training that we will receive through the CoTA program will empower our teachers to effectively infuse the arts throughout the curriculum, resulting in an educational experience unlike any other in East County.”
During the selection process, each applicant was required to demonstrate endorsement for the program from the principal and support from at least 80 percent of the faculty. “The response to the competition was so wide-reaching that we are planning future regional workshops for the other Beacon School applicants as well,” Doyle said.
Unlike typical artist-in-residence programs, CoTA artists, who include everything from puppeteers, dancers, and photographers to literary artists and actors, collaborate with individual teachers for three ten-week sessions over the course of three years. During year one, teachers learn how arts integration can enhance and extend student learning in other curricular areas and how to engage multiple intelligences while collaborating with a CoTA artist. In year two, teachers continue to connect arts standards to the Common Core State Standards while assuming a larger role in directing their class project. By the third year, teachers take the lead while an artist provides coaching and support.
The arts-infused projects, which are integrated with other academic subject areas such as language arts, history, science and math, conclude with a performance, presentation or exhibition, providing evidence of student learning. Examples of previous projects include geologists’ notebooks of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks; a museum filled with ancient Egyptian artifacts; and an art installation and rap about toxic waste.
While this is the inaugural Beacon Schools competition, CoTA has been building critical-thinking skills through arts-infused learning since 1998. The program has already provided professional development through creative collaborations between artists and more than 1,200 teachers at 30 schools in San Diego County. CoTA is currently involved with a three-year United States Department of Education grant with the University of California San Diego and National School District.