Learning through the Arts in Lexington's Catholic Schools

By Heink, Jill; Farnau, William | Momentum, April/May 2008 | Go to article overview

Learning through the Arts in Lexington's Catholic Schools


Heink, Jill, Farnau, William, Momentum


Knights of Columbus McGivney grant helps Diocese of Lexington expand emphasis on arts in urban schools

As the superintendent and staff looked at the opportunities available to the students in Catholic schools within the Diocese of Lexington, the need was clear for more emphasis in the arts. We already had seen an abundance of research verifying the positive contribution of the arts to continued student success and achievement, and teachers were requesting assistance to better address teaching the arts in our schools.

We also learned from exit interviews and anecdotes that a significant number of parents opt out of Catholic schools each year because of their perception that their children would have more arts opportunities in the public school system, especially in band and other performance areas.

With our schools spread throughout the 50-county area of the diocese, we decided to concentrate on the cluster of schools located in the urban area around Lexington, the largest city within the diocese. We believed that teachers and administrators from the Lexington schools (including the only diocesan high school) could get together more readily for work sessions and other collaborative efforts, and that the schools would represent a wide variety of curricula and facilities. In addition, the regional elementary school in downtown Lexington just had undertaken a campaign to renovate its historic, pre-World War I building. The school plans a special emphasis on developing a fine arts wing, including an auditorium, so the project meshes well with an overall focus on enhanced learning through the arts at all our schools.

As the idea began to crystallize, we realized that our efforts to strengthen our urban Catholic schools matched the goals of the Father Michael McGivney Memorial Fund for New Initiatives in Catholic Education funded by the Knights of Columbus and administered through the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA). Sister Bernadette McManigal, a sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the superintendent of schools at that time, and diocesan grant writer Jill Heink submitted a grant proposal that sought support to develop a program to enrich the educational experience of all our students through the arts and increase the appeal of our schools to more families.

Arts Consortium

Our first task after receiving the McGivney grant was to form a 21-member arts consortium consisting of participants from the Lexington area urban schools (four elementary schools and one high school), the new superintendent of schools and the grant writer for the diocese. Teachers in the arts areas as well as physical education, media, English and drama were included, along with parents and administrators. Sister Bernadette, the former superintendent, remains a member of the consortium.

The consortium members met several times over the summer break to articulate and plan the implementation process. Beth Ettensohn, a Lexington art teacher at one of the parish schools, with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the elementary, high school and college levels, accepted the job of consortium facilitator. As the first task, Ettensohn led the group in formulating mission, vision and philosophy statements for the consortium. These statements included the following components:

* Develop diocesan curriculum guidelines to improve existing arts programs and to integrate the arts into other content areas.

* Provide support and training for teachers.

* Promote the role of arts in enriching the Catholic school experience and deepening students' faith.

* Establish a collaborative relationship with local cultural organizations, higher educational institutions, and other diocesan committees.

* Advocate the important impact that the arts have on student's lives.

* Continue to assess and evaluate the progress through the diocesan consortium.

As the first months of the work proceeded, consortium activities included:

* Hosting of an arts-focus breakfast.

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