Light Bulb Moments: Impact and Expansion in Early Arts Learning

Have you ever heard an autistic, mute, 4-year old speak for the very first time? Neither have I, but our Wolf Trap Teaching Artists frequently work these miracles in Pre-K classrooms. So what’s the secret? How do these light bulb moments happen for children of diverse backgrounds? The answer is simple: arts-infused learning.

Let me first explain the wonders of Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning through the Arts. The Arts & Science Council is a state affiliate that administers a program developed by the “mothership” up in Vienna, Virginia. The program places professional teaching artists in partnership with classroom teachers in Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms for 7-week arts residencies. The professional development program gives these classroom teachers performing arts skills that help to ignite creativity in their students and spark an interest in learning – the fun way.

I’ve had the great pleasure of witnessing the joy, smiles, and authentic excitement for learning that this program awakens within Pre-K students. A typical classroom in CMS can include many non-English speaking students, students with a range of learning disabilities, and students that are living at or below the poverty line. Wolf Trap uses the arts to create a more equitable learning environment for these students.

This program is not a flouncy add-on to what teachers must accomplish in a school year. No, Wolf Trap uses the arts as a vehicle to enhance the literacy, math, or science learning that’s already taking place. Take, for example, a math residency in music. Did you know that a young person’s memory span can only handle seven items of information at a time? Defying these limitations, music works to string together three or four times the amount of information by using a melody that is much more easily recalled. In the case of a Pre-K math lesson, students learn songs about shapes that are easily recalled because the information is attached to a catchy tune.

North Carolina Wolf Trap is rapidly expanding and bringing more educational equity to students and schools across the state. What once was a one-county residency program ten years ago now has the capacity to offer over 85 residencies in five counties. The ESL (English as a Second Language) and LSES (Low Socioeconomic Status) students in classrooms with Wolf Trap now have a more equal opportunity to be successful in school due to the solid foundations Wolf Trap lessons provide. These arts residencies allow more students to read on reading level by the time they get to third grade.

Did you know that the number of newly constructed prison cells each year is based on the number of students that cannot read in third grade? Let that ruminate in your brain for a moment….

I feel exceptionally lucky to work at a place like ASC that prioritizes programs that move the dial on important issues in our education system.

Lessons in Event Planning

For the last several months, my time has been consumed largely by planning DHC’s two biggest fundraisers. This includes a luminary fundraiser around the holidays and a soup tasting fundraiser right before the Super Bowl. At times, there seemed to be a lot of pressure; botching an event could reflect negatively on the organization or convince people not to participate next year. I made mistakes along the way, but I also learned so much, from enthusiastic volunteers, knowledgeable board members, and kind co-workers.

Below are some of the lessons I learned from planning fundraisers (disclaimer: I am by no means a professional, but speak from my own experiences):

-There are things beyond your control, some of which will go wrong. With these fundraisers we had last minute issues with electrical outlets, the amount of supplies and the beyond-our-control weather. After the fact, I learned that these things weren’t the catastrophes that they seemed to be in the moment and that panicking didn’t help the situation.

-Don’t stress about the little things (also see above)- It is alright if a mistake was made on the promotional materials or if you receive a piece of constructive criticism about the event logistics. In the grand scheme of the fundraiser, these set-backs don’t matter that much.

-Delegate tasks- I am 100% guilty of the mantra “if you want something done right, do it yourself.” Unfortunately for me, this can mean a very heavy workload and more stress (albeit self-imposed). With these fundraisers, I quickly learned that I could not do everything. I have been extremely fortunate to work with very dependable and organized people. I have also learned that it is important to be very clear about the role that volunteers will be responsible for to ensure that expectations are met.

-Be kind to yourself and others- I believe that it is very important not to be too hard on yourself; we all make mistakes because we are human and the best part is that we can learn from them. I have also found it very important to be kind to others. Even when you are stressed and everything is going wrong, it is worth the extra effort to be kind and polite to those around you. People probably won’t remember the mistake on the program but they are more likely to remember how you treat others.

After the months of planning and hundreds of e-mails, with a sigh of relief I was able to enjoy myself at both events. I was grateful that nothing major went wrong; luminaries were distributed and lit and over 180 gallons of soup was eaten. I was amazed by and grateful for the community’s support of these events. The big fundraisers are over and now I will have more time to work on grants and other projects. I hope to continue to learn and be challenged in my work here at DHC, no matter what I am doing.

css.php