Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Arts Integration as a Catalyst for High School Renewal

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Arts Integration as a Catalyst for High School Renewal

Article excerpt

Woodlands High School,1 located in a rural community in the Northeastern United States, was an unlikely location to launch an arts academy in the fall of 2003. Begun as a classical public college-preparatory academy over a century ago, Woodlands served approximately 400 students, 97% of whom possessed European heritage and 33% qualified for free or reduced meals. A small but committed group of administrators and teachers had shared a vision to create an experiential yet academically vigorous pathway for a small "community of artists," as described by one student who participated in the planning year. Woodlands' success with initiatives in personalized and community-based learning had led to the High School Reform Career Academies Pilot grant award of $200,000 to establish a career academy in a vocational field cluster. What follows is an encapsulation of the first 2 years of the Integral Vision of the Arts (IVA, pronounced "Eva"), its program, pitfalls, and possibilities for school practitioners and arts leaders to consider during this crucial time of secondary school renewal. As a work in progress, the results of early program implementation cannot conclude with definitive resolve, or promise potential generalization to other school reforms. However, Janesick (2003) offers that "the value of the case study is its uniqueness" with which to discuss "powerful statements ... that uncover the meanings of events in individuals' lives" (p. 70).

First, a brief background on two current movements in progressive high school reform - career academies and arts integration - maps out the framework in which IVA was originally conceived. Second, an overview of the curriculum defines the program's emphases and parameters. Third, the service-learning component is illuminated to expose the program's greatest potential as well as to portray its struggles within the traditional school structure. A critical incident involving students and Woodlands' principal exemplifies the fissures between the vision and reality of school change. Fourth, a reflection on the factors that contributed to IVA's success and the obstacles that curbed further growth are shared. In conclusion, the analysis of this case study presents several suggestions to both inspire and caution those undertaking secondary school renewal.

Three sources provided the data utilized in the study. As the director of the Integral Vision of the Arts, I share the lived experience that began in the earliest planning stages through its first two years. In addition, a university researcher conducted a comprehensive evaluation of IVA during the pilot year, employing both quantitative and qualitative methods to apprehend the views of students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members. Students' articles, administrative memos, and other artifacts relevant to the issues raised also contributed to data collection.

Background

Underway in American high schools is a movement to reform the structure and delivery of education (Levine, 2001; National Association of Secondary School Principals, 2004; Pearlman, 2002; Sizer, 1995; Vermont Department of Education, 2002). Dividing large institutions into smaller learning communities (Ayers, Bracey, & Smith, 2000; Johnson, 2002), decreasing the ratio of teachers to students (National Association of Secondary School Principals, 2004), implementing differentiated classroom activities (National Association of Secondary School Principals, 2004; Vermont Department of Education, 2002) and authentic assessments (Levine, 2001; Meier, 1995), connecting career planning, expanding alternative learning opportunities, and encouraging active student involvement in school life predominate the current discourse on secondary level reform (Apple & Beane, 1995; Sizer, 2002, 1995). The career academy model, begun in 1969, encompasses three elements that reflect current shifts in high school design: the creation of a small learning community of faculty and students committed to shared learning goals; a focus on a specific career cluster, such as the arts, technology, science, business, humanities, and health, among others; and the utilization of various and hands-on instructional strategies to reach a heterogeneous student body. …

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