Prelude, Fugue & Riffs

Spring Break in Snow Proves To Be Education


by Cynthia Reynaud

During March the Leonard Bernstein Center for Learning at Gettysburg College was featured in the Des Moines Register. Ten education majors from the Gettysburg College spent their spring break observing teachers and students in the West Des Moines school district using the Leonard Bernstein Artful Learning method in their classrooms.

The snowy plains of West Des Moines weren't exactly what 20-year-old Allison Rudolph had envisioned as the perfect spring break destination, but sitting at a miniature table surrounded by 7- and 8-year-olds made the cold weather worth it.

Rudolph, a junior at Gettysburg College, was one of 10 education majors from the Pennsylvania college who spent their spring break observing teachers and students in the West Des Moines school district using the Bernstein Artful Learning method in their classrooms. The method uses the arts as a focal point for teaching and learning in all academic subjects.

"It's been a wonderful experience," Rudolph said. "I wouldn't trade it for Florida or Cancun or any of that."

The students visited classrooms at Crestview Elementary, Hillside Elementary and Phenix Early Childhood Center last week. Hillside and Phenix faculty went through three years of training to become certified Artful Learning schools.

Wednesday, Phenix teacher Jessica George's second-graders buzzed about the classroom showing off their activities to the college students. The day's lesson: balance. Unlike most second-grade classrooms, these children weren't bound to their desks in front of the teacher. Instead, they were paired in groups with other students and given supplies and directions to complete unconventional activities on their own.

Sophia Jacobsen, 7, and Bianca Solis, 8, spent the hour strategically placing clothespins on crescent-shaped pieces of paper to get them to balance on the edge of a table. "It's fun when you get to do it yourself," Sophia said. "Watching someone do it is boring." On the other side of the room, Deviace Coleman, 7, drew pictures of fish in relevance to where they live in the ocean. "I like art and drawing," he said. "This is more play than work."

"Part of the reason teaching using the arts is effective is because it makes learning fun and engaging," said Alison Kenny-Gardhouse, president of Connexionarts, an arts-ineducation consulting firm based in Toronto. "When you present things to your students that are arts infused, you are giving them an opportunity to learn in a variety of different ways," Kenny-Gardhouse said.

West Des Moines school district leaders decided to offer this method of learning after winning a Grammy award in 1999. "I think for my kindergartners, allowing them to take risks with the songs and rhymes... it allows them to do more creative things for their writing," said Anne Kooker, a kindergarten teacher at Crestview Elementary.

The West Des Moines school district joins districts in Los Angeles; Portland, Oregon; Lafayette, Louisiana; Duluth, Minnesota; Chicago and Atlanta that use the arts method in schools, and new sites continue to pop up, said Ken Pool, executive director of the Leonard Bernstein Center for Learning at Gettysburg College. "This has been such a learning experience and a wealth of new knowledge," Rudolph said. "I can't wait to implement some of the strategies in my own classroom."

Reprinted by permission Des Moines Register, All Rights Reserved.


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