Manatee County school collaborates with USF Sarasota-Manatee


By: Rich Shopes
USFSM Communications & Marketing

SARASOTA, Fla. (April 22, 2015)  – USF Sarasota-Manatee is teaming up with a Manatee County elementary school to propose an innovative teaching method aimed at boosting retention levels in young children.

Researchers say their aim to increase retention relies on integrating the arts into everyday classroom lessons, beginning at the pre-kindergarten level.

Starting this fall, faculty and students from the university’s College of Education will collaborate with pre-k instructors at the G.D. Rogers Garden Elementary School in Bradenton to blend various art-related cues – visual, aural or even tactile – into lesson plans.

The plan involves connecting lessons to one or more of these cues to enable the children to retain the lessons long after the school day ends.

“Instead of just learning numbers by rote memorization, the students could paint the numbers using various colors, identify pictures that show the numbers in a creative way or learn through the integration of music,” said Dr. Marie Byrd of USF Sarasota-Manatee’s College of Education.

The program, called Early Arts Guided Learning Experiences, or Project EAGLE, is being introduced at Rogers thanks to a recently extended $35,000 grant from the Manatee Community Foundation’s Leslie & Margaret Weller Fund. Additionally, the university is contributing $10,285 toward the program and the Manatee school district is providing $8,970.

“The genesis of all of this is that we had funding from a particular fund that is primarily directed to supporting arts in education and so we wanted to honor that,” said Marilyn Howard, executive director of the foundation. “We’re looking at anything that can improve school readiness for these young children, and arts integration into the curriculum is certainly an avenue for that.”

Pre-kindergarten instructors have already received some instruction in how to integrate the arts into classroom lessons and will receive continued instruction this summer.

Once the fall semester begins, student interns from USF Sarasota-Manatee will join the teachers to observe and assist them in the classroom.

Drs. Byrd and Helene Robinson, also of the College of Education, will monitor the program and meet regularly with Rogers Garden Principal Latrina Singleton and Robin Thompson, the Manatee school district’s director of early learning, for updates or to answer questions.

Byrd and others at the college have high aspirations for the program and say it could be extended into kindergarten, first-grade, second-grade and beyond.

Dr. G. Pat Wilson, dean and associate professor at the College of Education at USF Sarasota-Manatee, said that if the program is extended past pre-k, the arts would be mixed into lesson plans appropriate to grade content standards.

Sixth graders studying Abraham Lincoln, for example, might start by looking at paintings or photographs to examine Lincoln’s expression, clothing or background for clues relating to his character, bearing or the circumstances under which the photograph or painting was produced.

That exercise might then dovetail into a broader discussion about the slain president’s accomplishments in office, the Emancipation Proclamation or the Civil War, she said.

“If they’re looking at the Emancipation Proclamation, they would learn about the visual clues and not just the words, but the visual images around the words, so the art piece is throughout the lesson and they are able to learn more,” Dr. Wilson said.

Added Dr. Brianne Reck, associate professor of educational leadership and director of the college’s Center for Partnerships in Arts-Integrated Teaching: “Arts integration is not cutting out shapes. It is teaching the elements of an art form along with the academic content standards.

“There’s increasingly powerful evidence that suggests that when you engage students in learning with art you increase achievement and increase retention,” Dr. Reck said. “There are tremendous positive benefits to this.”

The program at Rogers is expected to run through the spring 2016 semester.

Researchers at the college will then comb through data, including grades and test scores, collected by the student interns to measure the program’s success and recommend changes, if necessary, going forward.

“The plan is that this will assist in decreasing the academic achievement gap we’re seeing,” Dr. Byrd said.