It's summer break, but classes were still in session at the Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts -- at least for teachers.
They packed into the school's classrooms two weeks ago for a summer training program by the Los Angeles Unified School District on arts integration. Incorporating arts into other lessons is a key component in the district’s new arts plan.
In one session, music instructor Paul Strand tried to connect the dots for a group of teachers by asking this:
"What is the natural connection between music and which of our four disciplines?"
"Math," several of them chimed in.
"Ok, there it is," Strand said, encouraged.
The plan, which district officials have shared with the board and will post publicly later this month, calls for some P.E. teachers to teach introductory courses in dance and Language Arts teachers at some schools to take on theater instruction.
Teachers will be encouraged to teach integrated lessons – where art is taught alongside a subject like Math or English.
For example, a physics discussion on the laws of motion could center around a dance move that students practice themselves.
Or, as Strand suggested, using a 1930s piece of music as text for a social studies lesson.
The 44 page plan follows a measure approved by the school board in October to make the arts a core subject. It's an effort to restore arts in the district and return funding for arts education to 2007-08 levels of $34 million. That's nearly twice the $18.4 million the district spent in 2011-12. Thousands of students currently receive no arts education.
Highlights from the new plan include:
- The district will increase the number of traveling art teachers over the next four years. In 2012, 216 elementary arts teachers spread their time among multiple campuses. As KPCC reported late last year, many of them see about 150 students per day, a small fraction of the students in each school.
- Itinerant arts teachers positions will be modified "so that the teachers function as both arts teachers and art integration specialists." Teachers holding the new positions will be responsible for assisting general classroom teachers with learning and implementing arts integration plans for their classrooms.
- A new Certificate of Arts Integration will be created and gradually rolled out. Those who receive it will be acknowledged as having a "special skill" for hiring and pay purposes.
- Data collection is a major component of the new plan. Among the new data efforts listed: "Set up tracking system on arts course work completed by students in the elementary, middle and high school to assist teachers in placement for magnets, pilot programs or in more advanced arts course work," and "develop rubrics and assessments that can measure student progress against state approved arts standards."
- Create a citywide cultural network to tap education resources at theaters, museums, art galleries and other creative industries.
Steven McCarthy, the district's K-12 Arts Coordinator, said one reason arts integration is at the core of the plan is to safeguard arts education from future cutbacks.
"I live in the real world and I know that the economic cycle will turn around once again," he said. "What I’m hoping to leave as my legacy is a sustainable program."
McCarthy hopes that arts will become such a fundamental part of teaching methods, that they’ll be safe from the budget ax.
Teachers at the training were very supportive of arts integration, but several said it adds to a growing list of requirements.
"I'm feeling overwhelmed right now," said sixth grade teacher Brett Drugge. He listed recent changes within the district that have him feeling stressed: iPads in the classroom, teacher evaluations, a switch to national Common Core standards and testing.
"The list is pretty long as far as all this new reform coming into the classroom," he said.
Theater teacher Karen Robinson cited other concerns, like getting school principals to support arts integration.
"First it’s getting teachers past the fear and the discomfort in the unfamiliar and then helping them to get the support from administration to make the time," she said.
The district plans to provide arts integration training for 800 teachers by the end of the coming school year. Administrator trainings are also in the works.
The district hasn’t released a detailed timeline for the new arts plan, but some changes will begin this fall.
Kerry Buchman has been working as a full-time substitute since the district cut her job as a roving elementary art teacher.
She supports arts integration but is worried that it may push things like learning violin to the sidelines.
"There's always a fear that when you integrate arts into the general classroom that it might mean that the arts sort of disappear," she said.
In the plan, the district addresses that concern. "Arts integration will be an expansion of, not a substitute for, sequential comprehensive curriculum and instruction in dance, music, theatre, and visual arts."
The district will release a budget to accompany the plan later this summer.
United Teachers Los Angeles Chapter Chair Ginger Rose Fox heads the arts committee for the teachers' union. She said she's eager to see details of the plan.
"We should have equitable access to all kids," she said, noting that in her opinion charter schools have been able to teach the arts at a much greater level than traditional schools in the district. "We want to have the same quality offered in every school."