Not every child learns the same way. One child may thrive in the classroom, while another might flourish by being active. In the East Meadow School District, students and teachers are given the opportunity to learn through the arts.
The Arts Ambassador Program is a partnership among the school district, the Tilles Center and the Nassau County Museum of Art, headed by Laura Lynch, the director of education at the museum. Together they provide professional development for teachers to give them ideas of how to integrate a work of art into their curriculum to teach anything from math to English.
The idea was the brainchild of Kelly Nixon, the district’s director of music and art. She wanted to create a program that combined the two cultural institutions, according to Nancy Richner, a consultant who helped facilitate the program.
“You can teach anything through the arts,” said Richner. “It really was a way to empower teachers.”
Most of the teachers who sign up are from one of the district’s five elementary schools, but some come from the two middle schools as well. Participation isn’t mandatory, but those who take part receive credit toward their professional development.
The three-day program starts with a trip to a live theater production and this year’s selection was “The Lion King” on Broadway. The following day, participants split their time between the Tilles Center and the Nassau County Museum of Art, where they discussed themes they had seen in the show and connected them to art pieces. On the third day, they met once again at the museum, where they looked at more art, but in the afternoon they got together in teams to consider their curriculum and how they could use art to enhance their lessons.
“The beauty of the arts is that we can connect them to almost anything,” Heather Anastasio, the district’s art chair, said. “I think teachers are creative people. Even if you’re not teaching art, if you’re teaching third grade, you’re finding amazing, creative ways to introduce lessons, because all students learn differently, and some really respond to those creative elements infused into lessons.”
The district has a longstanding partnership with both the Tilles Center and the museum, and during the school year, teaching artists visit classrooms and work with students. An “exploration” unit usually ends with a field trip to the Tilles Center to see a show, and teachers try to create lessons in different subjects that are geared toward the show the students will see.
“One of our goals is to inspire teachers to be super-creative in their teaching and to recognize kids that specifically might not learn in the traditional teaching model,” Stephanie Turner, the center’s director of education and outreach, said. “Some kids might need more arts learning, more experiential learning where they’re on their feet.”
Annamaria Izzo-Barbieri, a fifth-grade teacher at Parkway Elementary School, said the program “put a fire under me” for next year’s lessons.
“It just connects the arts, culture, history, and the creativity behind it,” Izzo-Barbieri said of the program, “and this whole experience is something that I can’t wait to give my kids in September. I got to meet wonderful people, and they do push you a little bit out of your comfort zone, and it really put me in the perspective of my students.”
Meadowbrook Elementary School Principal Danielle Lasher said that she wanted to take part because she saw how teachers responded to being involved last year.
“This whole professional development experience has been very refreshing, because I’ve really been able to place myself in the role of a student,” Lasher said. “I really am a lifelong learner, and I think I speak for everyone here when I say that, and I think everyone really appreciates being able to just be a student right now.”