Story and photo by JOSH SOUTAS
Elementary school students, due to a greater focus on core subjects, have seen their arts programs shrink and almost disappear. The Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program (BTSALP) is focusing on bringing art back into the classroom.
The BTSALP serves more than 200,000 students in 300 schools across 31 school districts in the state of Utah, including 21 schools across the Salt Lake City School District.
The program, headquartered in Salt Lake City, is administered statewide through the Utah State Office of Education.
According to the website, BTSALP collaborates with deans and staff from the state’s universities to train and provide art specialists to the elementary schools. Those teachers, who are paid for by the organization, help faculty integrate art into their core lesson plans. The specialists also hold weekly art classes that focus on visual art, dance, music and theater, the four disciplines that are sponsored by BTSALP. The program incorporates these different forms of art as a unique approach to reinforce the core curriculum.
The organization reports on its website that student performance is increased in every subject, from language arts and math to social studies and science.
Mountain View Elementary is one of the 21 schools in Salt Lake City that participates in BTSALP. Kindergartners to fifth graders are introduced to dancing.
Principal Kenneth Limb said his students integrate science into their dance class. “Our fourth graders learn about land forms, and in their dance class they will use dance moves to depict land forms,” Limb said in a phone interview.
North Star Elementary, located in North Salt Lake, has been part of BTSALP for two years.
The school’s visual arts teacher, who started part time, moved to full-time employment after Principal Lew Gardiner saw the impact visual arts had on the students. North Star covers the other half of her salary that is not paid by BTSALP.
“Kids learn in different ways,” Gardiner said in a phone interview. “The BTSALP gives kids a different opportunity to shine and grow because of art, where in the traditional classroom they might not have that chance. Art is key when it comes to learning.”
Janelle Wride, visual arts teacher at Lincoln Elementary, said in a phone interview she believes that creativity is one of the main reasons that art needs to be in the classroom.
After nine years of teaching at the Salt Lake City school, Wride has seen how integrating the arts with the core subjects has made the curriculum more memorable and relevant to students.
Wride said another benefit she has seen in her schools is that art has no language barrier.
“It gives many of the kids in my school whose first language isn’t English a chance to participate, where in the classroom they don’t get that opportunity as often because of the language barrier. It lets the teachers see them in a different light,” Wride said.
She said she also likes to invite faculty into her classroom when she is teaching their students visual art.
“This program is functioning at its best when there is co-teaching, when the teacher is doing artwork with their own students. It gives the students a ‘we are all in this together’ feeling,” Wride said.
Wride also works with a large ethnic diversity and takes culture into consideration when planning lessons.
“Our fourth grade has a lot of Polynesian students, so I decided to incorporate Polynesian art forms into the lesson for that week,” Wride said. “And the Polynesian students really responded, it was interesting to see how well they reacted because they knew what I was teaching about related to them and their culture.”
Peggy Patterson, principal of Lincoln Elementary School in Salt Lake City, said in a phone interview that BTSLAP provides instructors who teach the arts in a way that her teachers cannot.
Patterson also said her music classes have helped the kids with math and science. The students use the beats in music to help them with addition and subtraction.
She has seen the fun that the arts can bring to the core curriculum.
“Every semester we have an informance — not a performance — but an informance, where parents and family are invited to see their kids perform and what they have been working on all semester in the classroom,” Patterson said.
Patterson said she believes that Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program has accomplished what it was created to do — better help students learn core subjects through the use of art.