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Leveraging the Arts for Deeper Learning

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Leveraging the Arts for Deeper Learning

Aaron Jones

Arts Integration Administrator, Arkansas Arts Academy

More than 150 years after the Battle of Pea Ridge, high school students from Arkansas Arts Academy partnered with park rangers, archaeologists and historians to scour a battlefield at Pea Ridge National Military Park for Civil War artifacts. 

The students discovered more than 700 artifacts from the battle using metal detectors to locate buried objects. They partnered with professionals to write descriptions and tag the objects with GPS coordinates, and the documented objects eventually entered the military park’s collection, making data about the artifacts accessible to the public through military museum databases.

“It was amazing to uncover artifacts from the battlefield. The experience offered so much more than a classroom lecture,” said Sara Grider, one of the students who participated.

These students were learning about history, about geography, about archeology and about preservation of artifacts — but they weren’t relying on textbooks to do so. 

As the leader of arts integration and museum partnerships at Arkansas Arts Academy, this story exemplifies what we do — and the critical importance for our students of ensuring that the arts are not confined to art classes. 

Arts integration helps all types of learners to retain information, make connections and grow as students. This leads to higher test scores, deeper interests, expanded college and career opportunities and an awareness of the skills and talents students can contribute to their community. 

Since we launched our museum partnerships two years ago, our school has established relationships with nine local museums and arts institutions, from Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art to the Museum of Native American History. 

The artwork, objects, artifacts and grounds from our partner institutions have become our classrooms. Our high school chemistry educator teaches the chemical make-up of paint and works with students to create original works of art from the chemistry product they created. Our language arts teachers design lessons that lead to poetry slams, which take place in the galleries at Crystal Bridges in front of iconic works of art.

These integrations not only enhance academic study, but also they foster creative expression and help students develop innovative solutions. They give students first-hand experiences with technology, art, theater, dance and music. 

When I joined Arkansas Arts Academy, our CEO Mary Ley made it clear that the arts would be part of everything we do. She often says, “Everyone finds a common denominator in the arts.” 

I believe this to be true — and I believe the way we integrate the arts with our curriculum could serve as a model for other schools in our region and throughout the country. We’ve grown and accomplished a great deal since our school was founded, and I’m excited to see how much more we can do as we open a new location in 2017.

I’m confident that based on what our students learn and experience, they will be accepted into top schools in the United States — as well as become successful leaders and contributors in the disciplines and careers they choose to follow.

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