By SUSANNE KAPPLERApril 30, 2009
This week, students at C.C. Pinckney Elementary School learn about Charles Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic -- by swing dancing. A visiting artist is teaching the students the "Lindy Hop" while incorporating history lessons about the era.
The artist's visit is part of the school's PatriARTS project, which is aligned with the South Carolina Arts in Basic Curriculum program. The school hosted its first visiting artist in 1989, and PatriARTS became part of the ABC project in 1995.
"We include all of the arts areas -- visual art, music, dance and drama, creative writing and literature," said Annette Francis, music teacher and PatriARTS project manager.
"What we want to try to do is provide all five of these art areas for the students, not just with experts in each one of these fields, but also to integrate those into the classrooms."
The project, which is funded by donations, consists of six elements: Arts classes, visiting artist residencies, performances, field studies, integration of arts into other academic areas and teacher training.
Throughout the school year, students are exposed to a variety of artists and art forms, ranging from African drumming workshops to architecture exhibits.
Francis pointed out that integrating arts into other subjects gives children a broader learning experience.
"Sometimes the lessons may be driven by the academic area. Sometimes the lessons may be driven by the arts area. But they dovetail beautifully," she said. "That way, students learn that in life, all areas of learning overlap. Things are not separated by subject, like they are when you go to math and reading and social studies and music."
Francis, who has been teaching for 32 years, also said that in her experience, students' involvement in arts has a range of benefits.
"I think we see students are more invested in school and more motivated in trying," she said. "What I see is students who are motivated because of their genuine love of arts activities; students who will work very hard because they want to be involved in things that mean a lot to them."
In addition, Francis said that children who may not be academically strong in other areas get a chance to excel in arts programs.
"I also have found that some of the students that I teach may not go into fields that we address with our standardized testing, but they will find their jobs in arts areas," she said.
"If we're not teaching those arts areas then we're not addressing the areas where they may find their mode of making a living."
Whether the students choose arts as a profession, Francis said she is confident that the program leaves an impression on them.
"I dare say that these kids won't forget who Charles Lindbergh is," she said.