Cultural Quarterly
Winter 2009
Volume XXII, Number 1
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A Winning Formula for Arts Education

By Leon M. Rubin

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What do you get when you combine the Broward Cultural Division, Broward County Public Schools and the Broward Center for the Performing Arts?  In the context of arts education, the answer is … a remarkably successful partnership that makes a positive impact on students, teachers and professional artists throughout the community.

2008 Literary Conference
2008 Literary Conference

“Our philosophy is based on the concept of building bridges between the classroom and the arts,” explains Mary A. Becht, director of the Broward Cultural Division.  “With inspiration and guidance from the Broward Cultural Council, arts education has been one of our top priorities from the very beginning.  We are committed to providing professional development opportunities to arts educators in school and out of school.  Our partnerships with the School Board and the Broward Center enable us to do that.”

To an outsider, the roles of the individual partners might not appear to be clear-cut – but that is really a tribute to how well the partnerships work.  Speak to key individuals in each of the entities involved in the partnerships, and there is no sense at all of a pecking order or jockeying for position.  Everyone is part of the team. 

The County provides financial resources in the form of a block grant to the School Board to promote arts education – the teaching of the artistic disciplines – as well as arts in education, or the use of the arts to teach other, non-arts subjects such as math, science or even physical education.

The School Board provides the audiences – the teachers who participate in the annual Arts Integration Conference as well as other workshops and training programs that are presented jointly by the three partners, and then the students who benefit from what their teachers learn.

“Our community arts partnerships have far reaching effects that extend to the school climate and the community,” states Marla Armstrong, curriculum specialist, Art K-12, for the School Board of Broward County, Florida.  “They foster community pride and purpose in quality arts education.  We are enormously proud to offer our students these outstanding opportunities.”

2008 Literary Conference
2008 Literary Conference

The Broward Center weighs in with the use of its first-class facilities for professional development programs, as well as with a seemingly endless array of music, dance and drama performances for young people through the Student Enrichment in the Arts (SEAS) program in collaboration with the School Board.

The focal point of the tapestry woven by these partnerships is the annual Arts Integration Conference in August, which is planned and coordinated by the Broward Cultural Division.  The highly anticipated gathering of teachers, artists and renowned instructors has grown to the point that it takes place concurrently at the Broward Center and the Dillard Center for the Arts in Fort Lauderdale.  The fifth annual conference – Exercising Creativity: Developing the Whole Child through the Arts – in August 2008 attracted nearly 1,000 participants.   

One of the only professional development experiences of its kind in South Florida, the conference brings in nationally recognized workshop leaders from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Partners in Education Roster of Teaching Arts, local university professors and teaching artists.  As Sharon Brooks, director of education for the Broward Center, explains, “The focus is to offer teachers the motivation and engagement tools they will use in the classroom - tools that are very simple along the lines of music, visual arts and dance that they can use for a number of different curriculum topics to help engage the children.  And that’s when learning really takes place.”

Brooks points out that the triangular nature of the arts integration partnership is unusual – if not unique.  “The Kennedy Center never intended for this to be a three-pronged partnership.  They intended for a performing arts center and an educational institution to be partners.  When this partnership was formed in 1993, they had to get special permission to bring in the third party,” she says. 

Becht says that this year, a concerted effort is being made to extend the benefits of the conference throughout the year by offering additional professional development opportunities to teachers.  “We expect to increase the number of trainings we are presenting with Kennedy Center artists and to take advantage of new facilities in county parks and ArtsParks.  We are also focusing on bringing arts in education into after-school programs.  We want to continue to strengthen the connections among arts educators, the classroom and the community.”

2008 Literary Conference
2008 Literary Conference

The Broward Cultural Council provides additional encouragement to build these bridges by convening a 17-member Arts in Education Committee, maintaining a database of and publishing an online directory of artists who are willing to partner with educators, requiring artists who are commissioned to create county public art projects to participate in community education activities and sponsoring the annual Broward County Arts Teacher of the Year Award program, among other initiatives.

And so from all indications, the formula that brings the schools, the County and the Broward Center for the Performing Arts together to advance this important cause is working to perfection. 

“We know in our hearts that the arts are essential to provide our children with the well rounded, quality education they deserve,” Armstrong observes.  “There is definitely a link between the arts and student achievement. As we know, high school students who take art classes have higher math and verbal SAT scores than students who take no arts classes.

“The arts teach skills necessary for 21st century leaders, workers and citizens,” she continues.  “Strong arts education programs are the first step in teaching skills like creativity, innovation and collaboration.  Creativity and self expression are nurtured in our schools, allowing students to solve problems and think critically.  Broward Schools are proud to work collaboratively with our community arts partners!”

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