40th Anniversary in Focus: Center for PAInT paves way for students, future teachers

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: February 09, 2016

Editor’s note: The story here is part of a series of 40 stories commemorating USF Sarasota-Manatee’s 40th anniversary this academic year. For more about USFSM’s history, please visit usfsm.edu/anniversary.

Dr. Elizabeth “Liz” Larkin, professor emeritus, remembers thinking the idea was aptly suited for arts-centric Sarasota and Manatee counties: integrating the arts into classroom instruction at public schools.

“What better place to do this than here?” she said.

The intent behind that notion was to improve children’s retention and understanding of academic content through the arts.

Advanced in 2011 by Dr. Terry Osborn, then dean of the College of Education, the concept grew to become the Center for Partnerships for Arts-Integrated Teaching (Center for PAInT), which now works hand-in-hand with local school districts to integrate the arts into teaching and learning.

Dr. Larkin, who oversaw the center in its first two years, recalled how the local school districts were eager to help. Professors in USFSM’s College of Education were equally supportive: “We had 100 percent buy-in from faculty.”

After a year of meetings, workshops and other professional development, the center launched in 2012 serving USFSM’s College of Education. The program would benefit not only the district’s students, but also College of Education teaching candidates who interned at the local districts.

Crossing subject specialties and grade levels, the program garnered broad support, striking a hopeful chord at a time when schools nationwide were shrinking or eliminating arts programs altogether to save tax dollars.

Among those bucking the trend was Louise Harrison, sister of the Beatles’ George Harrison. Ms. Harrison partnered with the center at the outset, visiting the campus for meetings and serving as an emissary off campus to promote the center and call for continued arts funding. Harrison was a vocal advocate of school-based arts programs nationally.

Other artists opened their doors as well. The Sarasota Opera with Maestro Victor DeRenzi welcomed students and faculty to rehearsals, as did the Venice Symphony.

Eventually, grant monies followed. Notably, the Manatee Community Foundation’s Leslie and Margaret Weller Fund awarded $42,000 in 2013 to support an effort involving the center and the Manatee district.

The following year, the center reached its biggest milestone yet: The state awarded the center $100,000 for the 2014-15 academic year.

“That was yet another show of support, this time from Tallahassee,” Dr. Osborn said of the allocation. “This was important because this was a public recognition of the great work the center was doing, which resulted in funding from the Legislature in fiscal 2014.”

Later that year, the federal Department of Education awarded Sarasota County $1.2 million to implement “Elevate with Arts Integration,” a four-year initiative aimed at strengthening student performance in reading, writing, math and science at four Title I elementary schools in Sarasota. USFSM was tapped to evaluate the program.

Dr. Larkin, who retired in 2013, calls her involvement in launching the Center for PAInT the pinnacle of her career: “I absolutely loved it. It kind of was like a crowning achievement to get that off the ground.”

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