Dr. Karen Burgard, former high school social studies teacher turned education professor at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, didn’t start with an art background.
However, she used art as a medium to teach her high schoolers almost every day, such as music to learn facts. She found their engagement, connection to the material and depth of knowledge increased.
Burgard, associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, said incorporating the arts into public school classrooms allows “students to be able to express themselves and express their cultural and personal identity in ways that are important and meaningful to them, throughout all content areas.”
Today Burgard is Principal Investigator for CULTIVAR (Communities Uplifting Learners Through Imagination and Vibrant Artistic Reflections). CULTIVAR is a $3.35 million, five-year grant awarded to the ASPIRE (A&M-San Antonio and South Bexar County ISDs Partnership to Impact Regional Equity and Excellence) network.
Burgard said CULTIVAR’s “North Star” question is: “How can we provide opportunities for families and communities to express their cultural and linguistic identity through the arts?”
CULTIVAR is currently providing arts integration professional development to a cohort of six Armstrong Elementary School teachers.
Fourth grade English and Language Arts teacher at Armstrong, Salena Sanchez, said the opportunity to have more resources for her students was one she jumped at, even though she wasn’t sure what to expect.
Burgard uses the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ definition when asked what is arts integration, “… an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process which connects an art form and another subject area and meets evolving objectives in both.”
Some of this professional development has been provided by Sean Layne, an arts coach for the Kennedy Center’s Changing Education Through the Arts program.
“He has also taught us how to teach our kids how to cooperate and communicate in the most amazing way. I remember feeling so supported and excited,” Sanchez said of Layne’s techniques.
One of which is “signing the contract”. The children come to a circle with the intent to calm and focus themselves, empowering them, “they are the boss of their brain,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez has seen a change in students’ approach to team activities as well.
“That’s when they are now like ‘We are a team. If I am letting someone get left out of the group, then I am failing as a team member too. I have a voice and the ability to say come join our group,’” she said of her students.
Before her work with CULTIVAR, Burgard said she was deeply moved by the power of the arts to engage families and peers at MLK Academy for Arts Integration’s family art night.
Armstrong Principal Laura Lopez had a similar reaction to the engagement she saw at their first major event in November 2021, a “con vivo” to kick off CULTIVAR at Armstrong.
“That was huge. There were so many things students could participate in,” Lopez said. “We had the food, the music, the mayor. All of that adds so much pride and value to our campus.”
The day after con vivo, all Armstrong students and their families received complimentary tickets from the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts to see “The Nutcracker.”
Teachers and students alike are embracing art integration, nearly 40% of students participated in “The Nutcracker” viewing.
The art exposure the students are receiving through CULTIVAR is impactful on their self-concept.
Lopez recalls one of her students told her, he never knew someone like him could be at the theatre or even on stage.
“There are no limitations. Art is for everyone,” Lopez said.
In fall 2022 the entire Armstrong campus will receive art integration training for full implementation.
CULTIVAR plans to provide ongoing professional development, expanding to all seven districts in the ASPIRE network, which includes South Bexar County schools and their families.
Sanchez hopes receiving this grant will influence local educators’ career choices. “Our campus has an incredible opportunity for the next few years. It would be great for others to join us,” she said.
Burgard has the unique opportunity to plant the CULTIVAR seed in future educators’ minds.
At A&M-San Antonio Burgard teaches teacher preparation courses and one of them is a Social Studies Methods class, where she shows her students photos of Texas and works from local artists.
Burgard’s former students encouraged her research with emails describing how they have applied arts integration they learned from her to their own teaching and found success.
“Everything is just better with art,” Burgard said.