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Artful Learning: Excellence in Arkansas

Posted May 30, 2024

Excellence in Arkansas
By Patrick Bolek

Not even the EF-3 tornado that pummeled the towns of Rogers and Bentonville, Arkansas, could dampen the spirits of the Arkansas Arts Academy's teachers and leaders.

Dr. Allison Roberts, Superintendent and CEO of the charter academy, had envisioned an extraordinary opportunity for Leonard Bernstein's Artful Learning education model to integrate the arts into students' everyday learning experience. For several years, this elementary and a middle/high school had been searching for a methodology that would empower teachers to align academic rigor with a more effective use of their robust arts program, which featured full-time music, guitar, visual arts, theatre, dance/movement, and STEM teachers. Dr. Roberts knew that Artful Learning would be the key to activating the strategic plan.

Meanwhile, Artful Learning Board member Eric Booth introduced the model to Aaron Jones, Director of Arts Integration and Museum Partnerships at the academy in 2018, and everything began to connect in the following years. With generous support from the Walton Family Foundation, Arkansas Arts
Academy started training as an Emergent Artful Learning School in the summer of 2022.

It has been rare and wonderful to witness the aligned efforts of this leadership team, which includes an effective principal, an experienced assistant principal, an arts integration director to oversee all schools, and a vibrant arts integration coordinator to support the inventive approaches every classroom teacher has committed to delivering. In addition, having access to eleven local museums, including Crystal Bridges American Museum of Modern Art, amplifies and extends the learning process, with students making powerful and authentic connections to new knowledge.

Observing the ongoing physical transformation of the school; supporting the evolution of enriched educational practices for all teachers at the academy; seeing students engage with rigorous content;, and feeling the surging momentum across the board, have all been palpable and satisfying. The entire staff exhibits tremendous dedication to the vision while taking risks - inspiring not only their students, each other, and their parents, but also validating the effectiveness of this work inspired by Maestro Bernstein. We are looking forward to the third and final year of Artful Learning training, set to begin in early June 2024.

Please enjoy these video vignettes that will connect you, the reader, with some of the leaders, teachers, and students, as they share their experience of Artful Learning.

Patrick Bolek is the Executive Director of Artful Learning. This summer marks his 22nd year with the model, and he remains honored to lead this non-profit in changing education through the arts.

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