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Artists in the classroom

Students at J.A. Laird Elementary School in Invermere will have a unique opportunity beginning next September.

Students at J.A. Laird Elementary School in Invermere will have a unique opportunity beginning next September, as J.A. Laird has been selected as one of six schools across B.C. to join the ArtStarts Infusion: Arts in Education program.

“We’re really excited, because it was quite a competition to get chosen,” J.A. Laird principal Jill Jensen said.

Infusion: Arts in Education is a program that will see professional artists working together with teachers to explore and implement art integration in the classroom. Arts integration is an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form, and aims to make the curriculum more accessible to students with a variety of learning styles.

“(The goals) are to deliver the curriculum, and to deliver the curriculum in a way that’s engaging to the students,” said ArtStarts marketing and communications manager Siobhan Rich. “That last part is what this program is meant to help with. It’s not replacing the current curriculum, it’s a way to deliver that curriculum in a way that might be more engaging to different learning types and different types of students.”

The program runs for three years, and schools that were interested in bringing the program to their community went through an intensive application process that included the program manager personally visiting each of the shortlisted 21 schools. The final six artists selected to take part also went through a similar application process, culminating in an intensive six-day training program in late September. Rich said that it was important to the organization that the selected artists live in close proximity to the selected communities, and as such, local artist Denise Lemaster has been selected to take part at J.A. Laird. Lemaster has a bachelor of education/fine arts, and has been a painter for over a decade.

“I’m very excited about it, I think it’s a wonderful program,” Lemaster said. “It’s great to think of art throughout the curriculum, I think the concept is wonderful.”

How the program will look, and how the artists will be utilized is up to each individual school and classroom. The first year of the program will actually be dedicated to figuring that out, as the selected artists work with schools and teachers to determine what their needs and goals are.

“We have provided a framework that they can work in, but we’re not prescribing what they do in those schools,” Rich said.

Even the number of classes the artists is involved with is up to the school, and Jensen said that J.A. Laird is actually aiming to have all six of their classrooms involved.

“The idea in general, is that it’s not just the one week they’re in and they’re out,” Rich said. “It’s more of a sustained program, where over the course of the year different instances with the artists occur so that the kids get an overall experience of what arts integration is all about.”

The second year is when the artist actually enters the classroom setting, and begins interacting with students (again, how exactly that is going to look and operate is still being determined.) Entering the third year, teachers are expected to take on a strong leadership role in their relationship with the artist, so that once the artists leaves at the end of the three years, the teacher can continue to implement their new teaching style in the classroom.

“(The teachers) have kind of learned how to do it themselves, and they feel confident doing arts-based practices themselves even though they’re not an artist,” Rich said.

The five other schools selected for the ArtStarts Infusion program include Lake Kathlyn Elementary in Smithers, St. Joseph’s Elementary in Chemainus, George Pringle Elementary in West Kelowna, M.V. Beattie Elementary in Enderby, and Mamquam Elementary in Squamish.

ArtStarts is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1996 with a professional staff and a volunteer board of directors. According to their website, “ArtStarts envisions a society where the arts are regarded as an essential part of educating young people and a catalyst for creating innovative, engaged and contributing members of society.” ArtStarts has a number of programs alongside the Infusion program, including booking and touring of professional performance artists in schools. For more information on ArtStars, visit their website at www.artstarts.com.

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