Dr. Karen Burgard, a former high school social studies teacher turned Texas A&M University-San Antonio professor of education, did not start with artistic training.
However, she used art as a medium to teach his high school students almost every day, like music to learn facts. She found their engagement, connection to the material, and depth of knowledge increased.
Burgard, an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, said integrating the arts into public school classrooms allows “students to be able to express themselves and their cultural identity and personal in a way that is important and meaningful to them, across all content areas. .”
Today, Burgard is Principal Investigator for CULTIVAR (Communities that edify learners through imagination and vibrant artistic reflections). CULTIVAR is a five-year, $3.35 million grant to the ASPIRE Network (A&M-San Antonio and South Bexar County ISDs Partnership to Impact Regional Equity and Excellence).
Burgard said CULTIVAR’s “North Star” question is, “How can we provide families and communities with opportunities to express their cultural and linguistic identity through the arts?”
CULTIVAR is currently providing professional development in arts integration to a cohort of six teachers at Armstrong Elementary School.
Armstrong fourth-grade English and language arts teacher Salena Sanchez said she jumped at the chance to have more resources for her students, even though she wasn’t quite sure how to what to expect.
Burgard uses the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts definition when asked what East artistic integration, “… an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate their understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process that connects an art form and another field and meets evolving goals in both.
Some of this professional development was provided by Sean Layne, arts coach for the Kennedy Center’s Changing Education Through the Arts program.
“He 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 them is the “contract signing”. Children come in a circle with the intention of calming down and focusing, empowering them, “they are the boss of their brains,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez has also seen a change in the students’ approach to team activities.
“That’s when they’re like now ‘We’re a team. If I let someone be kicked out of the group, then I fail as a team member too. I have a voice and the ability to say come join our group,” she said of her students.
Prior to her work with CULTIVAR, Burgard said she was deeply moved by the power of the arts to engage families and peers at the MLK Academy for Arts Integration Family Art Night.
Armstrong manager Laura Lopez had a similar reaction to the engagement she saw at their first major event in November 2021, a “con vivo” to launch CULTIVAR at Armstrong.
“It was huge. There were so many things for students to participate in,” Lopez said. “We had the food, the music, the mayor. It all adds so much pride and value to our campus.
The day after con vivo, all Armstrong students and their families received free tickets from the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts to see “The Nutcracker”.
Teachers and students embrace the integration of art, nearly 40% of the students participated in the viewing of “The Nutcracker”.
The artistic exposure students receive through CULTIVAR impacts their self-image.
Lopez recalls one of his students telling him that he never would have known someone like him could be in the theater or even on stage.
” There are no limits. Art is for everyone,” Lopez said.
In fall 2022 entire Armstrong campus will receive artistic integration training for full implementation.
CULTIVAR plans to provide ongoing professional development, expanding to the seven districts of the ASPIRE network, which includes South Bexar County schools and their families.
Sanchez hopes this grant will influence the career choices of local educators. “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 the minds of future educators.
At A&M-San Antonio, Burgard teaches teacher preparation classes and one of them is a social studies methods class, where she shows her students photos of Texas and works by local artists.
Burgard alumni encouraged her research with emails describing how they incorporated the applied arts they learned from her into their own teaching and found success.
“Everything is better with art,” Burgard said.