Our family recently moved from the home where we raised our children for the past 18 years. Soon after beginning packing we realized we had accumulated many unnecessary items. Paring down piles to donate, sell or pitch was easy until we discovered a group of 10 large plastic boxes full of our children’s artwork. My practical husband was flabbergasted I intended to have movers lug boxes of finger paintings, pottery and random art to our new home, but I was insistent. Before the boxes were loaded, our family enjoyed reminiscing about early school days while sorting through the boxes – each piece representing an array of educational themes and memories. I would bet that a lot of parents have their own collection of school art stashed somewhere that’s equally meaningful, but sadly there are far too many New Orleans children who aren’t provided opportunities to experience the enriching world of the arts.
Recent studies show access to the arts reduces – and in some cases eliminates – the achievement gap between impoverished students and their more advantaged peers. This deficiency in equal access for low-income children to arts programming prompted two local artists, Campbell Hutchinson and Allison Stewart, to develop an arts-based learning nonprofit they named KID smART. What began in 1999 with a weekly Saturday afternoon program led by a few friends has exploded into a multi-faceted program now reaching 3,500 Kindergarten through eighth grade students annually. The current offerings include designated Creative Schools, after-school enrichment programs, professional development and free arts-based curriculums available to teachers anywhere.
One of the most innovative components of KID smART is the Creative School. Schools interested in partnering with KID smART as a Creative School commit to changing the way they teach by blending math, science, social studies and English with different art forms making classrooms more joyful and effective places to learn. KID smART arts educators collaborate with teachers 20 hours a week to co-plan and co-teach lessons that build creativity and deeper understanding. “When traditional instruction isn’t working, KID smART is an alternative method to physicalize the work to offer different pathways in accessing knowledge and success”, says Executive Director Echo Olander. Participating schools are not only invested with their teaching staff but also contribute financially by fundraising one-third of the costs not provided by KID smART. With 12 Creative Schools currently in New Orleans, the trend is exciting and the results show students are growing in creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration.
Imagine a biology student learning the parts of a plant so that she can draw them with water color paints, or the English student improvising a book character using creative expression, or the physics students collaborating as a team to represent reflecting sound waves. With these unique teaching techniques, it isn’t surprising KID smART is making a positive impact in our community. During the 2015-’16 school year, 98 percent of teachers reported students deepened learning in both the targeted curriculum area and the art form and 94 percent of students reported their creativity and imagination increased as a result of KID smART. Board member Kate Werner adds, “KID smART teachers engage children in such a way they don’t even realize they’re absorbing math facts, parts of speech, or the water cycle – strategies that continue to build student success.” The KID smART mission to engage children in dynamic, creative and rigorous learning through the arts is providing access to creativity that will provide benefits well beyond the classroom.
A little more …
Consider a donation to KID smART on Give NOLA Day, May 2, through GiveNola.org/ks and support “Cocktails for KID smART” on Wednesday, October 18 at the home of Virginia and John Rowan. Learn more and buy your tickets today at KIDsmART.org.