Onstage inside the Walton Elementary School auditorium, a group of teachers, still in their school name-tags, are acting fast. Under the guidance of Sharon Miles, education director at New Stage Theatre of Jackson, they improvise scenes from the Civil Rights Movement, like the Montgomery Bus Boycott and counter sit-ins.
“Teachers are always looking for new and fresh ways to engage students. And theater has the ability to set off their brain in a different way,” Miles said. “Some students are more visual, some are more hands-on. If we can get students up and engaged in a different way, they’ll be paying attention and learning something before the even realize it.”
Harlem Renaissance artists inspire the artwork on the floor of the auditorium. On one side, Jackson artist Shambé Jones guides teachers to draw, drawing inspiration from Jacob Lawrence, famous for his pieces about the Great Migration. On the other side, Ask For More Arts artist-in-residence and arts facilitator George Miles directs teachers to build collages of their neighborhoods, à la Romare Bearden.
Improvisational acting, drawing pictures in the style of Jacob Lawrence and crafting paper collages in the spirit of Romare Bearden—this is professional development, Ask For More Arts-style. The creativity of the teachers, all serving schools in the Lanier High School feeder pattern, came packaged with even more benefits than just fun. Most of them are not art teachers, but they all can take art instruction back to their classrooms.
Prioritizing Creative Engagement
Innumerable studies prove art instruction is critical to a well-rounded education. Creativity inside the classroom boosts students’ morale, development, and wellbeing, as well as their overall scholastic achievement. Though students do get this instruction with extracurriculars like music, band, choir, and art class, creative exercises like drawing, singing and acting benefit students in all other subjects, too.
Ask For More Arts helps non-art teachers bridge that implementation gap, says George Miles, artist-in-residence and arts facilitator at Ask For More Jackson. “All students deserve to have art,” he said. “This is our way of implementing arts instruction back into classrooms.”
Ask For More Arts’ integrative approach empowers any teacher in any subject to use art to help students learn. For instance, Miles says, students can use acting to learn about the way the Earth and other planets revolve around the sun in the solar system. Students can use the concepts they learn in geometry and trigonometry to create complex pieces of artwork. When they learn about impactful black artists like Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence, they take the knowledge of the Harlem Renaissance and the Great Migration back to their classrooms, just in time for Black History Month.
Nitina Campbell, a third grade teacher at Galloway Elementary, says she appreciates the way the artistic approach to learning will engage students.
“This would go great with the social studies lesson,” she said. “In the first session I went to, I learned how we can use different ideas and standards to teach to make (teaching) into a fun game to get the kids involved, instead of sitting in their seats all the time.”