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.

Light Bulb Moments: Impact and Expansion in Early Arts LearningNorth 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.

Transitioning to Impact


Transitioning to Impact

Spring 2014: I am a second semester senior, on the brink of graduation, yet I still have no idea what direction I want my life to take. I am a psychology major with no intention of becoming a clinical psychologist and though I have deeply immersed myself in many extracurricular activities, none of them point me towards a particular career path. Nonetheless, after a fall full of career services appointments, information sessions and interviews, one fundamental criterion emerged from my job search: I am longing to have a sense of purpose in my post-grad life.

In fact, I am searching for this sense of purpose that permeates every aspect of campus life – from the orientation service walk to classes designed around civic engagement – Davidson fosters a connection between students and the surrounding community. While President Quillen has succeeded in coining this experience (“Transition to Impact”); this phrase simply encapsulates Davidson’s longtime commitment to preparing students for impact. The Davidson College Statement of Purpose asserts, “The primary purpose of Davidson College is to assist students in developing humane instincts and disciplined and creative minds for lives of leadership and service” – i.e. “transition to impact.”

Fall 2014: I have just started my Davidson Impact Fellowship at the Arts & Science Council (ASC). On my first day, I saw “Transition to Impact” programming in action, as Davidson Education Scholar Scott Cunningham ’16 provided me with a comprehensive overview of the importance of out-of-school time programming – a topic that will become a major focus of my own work here at ASC. During my year-long fellowship at ASC, I will be working on special projects on the Education team. While I do not know what the next year will bring, I am very excited to be a part of this program, and I am looking forward to sharing my experiences on this blog!