Drawing Lessons from the Studio to School Initiative
The 18 Studio to School projects were incredibly varied, representing a vast range of approaches, disciplines and community contexts. Every project had the same focus at its core: to provide students with high-quality arts education opportunities.
Arts education provided by Studio to School projects
In the Studio to School projects, arts education occurred through sequential, integration and exposure-based approaches, both during and outside of the school day. Some teams developed and improved new opportunities; others strengthened and expanded existing programming. Many also provided valuable arts education opportunities for educators; a few even focused primarily on working with educators rather than with students.
Every Studio to School project team worked diligently to improve arts education programming throughout the five years of the Initiative. Some focused on improving existing school programming, often by offering additional instruction for students or professional development for teachers, school leaders or teaching artists. Others refined programming as they built or expanded it, usually in response to feedback from students, teachers and parents.
Types of Arts Education Provided by Studio to School Projects
Most projects incorporated arts education opportunities that occurred both in and out of school time, and the programming was typically complementary.
The American Music Program at Vernon School bolstered in-school music programming through collaboration between the school’s music teacher and professional jazz musicians, who co-taught jazz programming to fifth and sixth grade students. This program also distributed high-quality instruments to students so that cost wouldn't be a barrier to participation. After-school jazz programming led by participating musicians and coordinated through Multnomah County SUN Schools complemented in-school instruction, providing space for students to practice and continue learning after school.
At Peninsula School in North Portland, Caldera Arts artist-in-residence and award-winning photographer Julie Keefe worked with Caldera mentors and teachers to offer a range of arts education opportunities to students and their families. Some opportunities were project-based and integrated into the school day for whole classes or grades (or for the entire school, as in the Best Part of Me project). Others took place on weekends or brought students out of school to interact with their broader community. On Saturdays, Caldera Creative Lab brought students and families together to create art, get homework help and build community.
Sequential arts programming is designed to build skill in a particular discipline (e.g., visual or music arts). Many projects incorporated sequential arts programming.
In Cave Junction, RiverStars Performing Arts cultivated students’ voice and power while also developing their skills, knowledge and confidence in the performing arts. Their dance and theater programming includes regular community performances developed by students, who write and choreograph original pieces addressing social issues that matter to them.
In several projects, arts organization partners—such as Oregon Symphony Association, the John G. Shedd Institute for the Arts, and the Siletz Bay Music Festival—bolstered in-school sequential music programming by providing individual and sectional instruction with professional musicians who introduced programming and mentorship that most students and teachers would otherwise lack.
In arts integration, the arts are taught alongside other subject areas to enhance learning in both subjects. Often, arts materials are used to help students think or communicate their ideas. Arts integration can also grow beyond this definition, infusing the arts and creative learning throughout school curricula as well as less formal learning opportunities. Arts integration can entail the use of music to explore fractions in math or using dance to deepen understanding of what it means to stretch, and how stretching our bodies and thinking can help us learn in math or science.
Lane Arts Council worked at Oaklea Middle School to integrate visual arts and the Studio Habits of Mind (a set of eight key habits like develop craft, observe, and reflect) in schoolwide learning opportunities. In doing so, the project inspired and encouraged creative mindsets and student self-efficacy not just in core subjects, but also across the curriculum. Throughout the ArtCore project, public artist and ceramicist Betsy Wolfston worked closely with teachers and supported other long-term artists-in-residence to teach and co-teach lessons blending visual arts with social studies, English language arts and other subjects. The project also integrated the in-school art studio with core classrooms, allowing students’ creative expression and learning to flow between and across these physical spaces.
Portland Children’s Museum teaching artist Tina Eckton worked with teachers and school staff at Woodlawn School in Northeast Portland to integrate inquiry-based learning and materials thinking into classrooms. In materials thinking, art materials are chosen to elicit specific types of thinking or communication in the context of an open-ended inquiry connected to the curriculum. This is a way to explore, develop and reflect on concepts that may not be accessible to students until they use these materials while thinking about the inquiry. In other words, students use the materials to find the answers rather than to demonstrate what they already know. For example, earthenware clay was used by a group of fourth graders in developing final studies of salmon, indigenous history and pioneer migrations. Students collaborated at two tables using clay to explore and expand their ideas using the inquiry prompt: “What might the feelings be at the end of a migration?” Tina’s efforts included working with the school counselor to promote social and emotional learning for individual students and small groups, as well as in whole-school activities. Tina also worked with the PE teacher to enhance lessons about the cardiovascular system.
Through the Fishtrap Story Lab in Wallowa County, writer-in-residence Cam Scott co-taught digital storytelling with teacher Liza Strickland at Joseph Charter School, integrating writing and media arts learning into a technology course for seventh and eighth graders. Students engaged in generative writing and built visual stories about their lives and experiences using photography, iStopMotion and GarageBand.
Through arts exposure opportunities, students experience arts learning through stand-alone opportunities (e.g., field trips or assemblies). Many Studio to School projects incorporated these opportunities through performances, either in school or as field trips.
RiverStars Performing Arts in Cave Junction took groups of students to see Oregon Shakespeare Festival performances in nearby Ashland. In Sisters, students at the elementary and middle schools enjoyed schoolwide performances from Sisters Folk Festival musicians (sometimes accompanied by workshops, Q&As or other experiences).
In Portland’s David Douglas School District, Oregon Symphony musicians and conductors visited Alice Ott Middle School and Gilbert Heights Elementary School for instrument “petting zoos” as well as orchestra and ensemble performances to expose students to different instruments and instrument groups. All elementary music specialists received professional development prior to each season’s interactive Link Up concert at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in downtown Portland.
Some projects developed entirely new sequential, integration or arts exposure programming, or brought programming into schools that was new for participating students. This programming was often developed or held in response to student or community interests, strengths and needs, and often resulted in culturally relevant or culturally specific programming.
Open Signal built a new media arts program for students at Open School centered in residencies with high-caliber professional artists like Bibi McGill, INSA, Elijah Hasan and Jodi Darby. Artists worked with students on projects to explore and amplify student identities and explored social issues through music, visual and media arts, typically culminating in well-attended school community events that shared and celebrated students’ work.
Hood River Middle School mariachi.
Both the Band Together project in Hood River and the John G. Shedd Institute in Eugene added new after-school mariachi programs to broaden the slate of arts education programming available to Hood River and Agnes Stewart Middle School students respectively. These programs were developed in response to requests from Latino/x families and benefited from lots of community engagement to ensure they were relevant and authentic to students and families.
Many projects built students’ engagement in programming and improved their access to arts education by removing barriers to participation, proactively engaging students (and sometimes their families), and making structural changes to create opportunities that were more equal and, in some cases, more equitable.
For the project teams, this meant creating new entry points or offering more varied opportunities to get involved in arts programming. Creating more entries into arts education opened programming up to more students, including those who had not previously engaged in the arts. Many projects also increased instructional time for existing arts education programs by providing programming before school, after school, during the summer or school breaks. That programming generally related to or built on in-school programming.
The Regional Arts and Culture Council’s The Right Brain Initiative team worked to bring arts integration to Eastwood Elementary in Hillsboro, a dual-language (Spanish-English), Title 1 K-6 school. Team members and Eastwood staff co-developed arts integration residencies and teacher professional development tailored to the school’s strengths and needs. This included incorporating and supporting trauma-informed practices prioritized by the school. At Evergreen Middle School, The Right Brain model was implemented in a middle school setting for the first time.
The Music is Instrumental project in Lincoln City reestablished a long-dormant sixth grade band program, reintroducing band as a middle school elective. But school leaders quickly saw that certain groups of students were not participating—particularly those who were struggling academically. It wasn’t clear if the differences in participation were related to lower interest, less access or other reasons, but the project team could see that the band program was inadvertently reinforcing gaps in opportunity and achievement. School leaders felt strongly that they had to act. They chose to make band mandatory for all incoming sixth graders so that all students would have an equal opportunity to participate.
The project team at rural La Pine Middle School, with partner arts organization Sunriver Music Festival, launched several new after-school programs along with extended arts programming during the school day. These included a revival of the school band program as well as new drama, guitar and ukulele programs, giving students multiple ways to access the arts, depending on their interests and schedules.
Some projects established or enhanced a broader continuum of arts education by scaffolding and sequencing arts education opportunities. This happened across grades at a single school and across multiple schools within a district. Connecting arts opportunities created pathways for students to follow in their arts learning, which often helped them go deeper into specific disciplines. In other cases, pathways connected arts experiences across mediums and grades.
In Sisters, the project team found early success establishing a new visual arts program for students in kindergarten through fourth grade. But this left a gap between the new programming and existing arts electives that began in seventh grade. In response, the team brought in a second arts specialist to teach fifth and sixth grade visual arts classes, creating a bridge for student learning. Art teachers at the elementary, middle and high schools worked together to align the scope and sequence of their classes. Inspired by this effort, music teachers at the three district schools embarked on a similar alignment of scope and sequence through a collaborative planning effort of their own.
At Ashland Middle School, the project team worked with community partners—including Ashland Art Center, Southern Oregon University, and Ashland Independent Film Festival—to enhance in-school programming and build new, complementary after-school programming, improving a slate of programming across music, visual, media and culinary arts.
Arts educators are central to developing, delivering and improving arts education. Project teams worked with all types of arts educators: school administrators, classroom teachers, arts specialists, teaching artists, and artists-in-residency, as well as school staff like librarians and counselors. Teams supported these educators in varied ways; some concentrated on working with arts educators as opposed to students, meaning that educators had valuable arts learning opportunities of their own.
Project support of arts educators included:
- Formal professional development opportunities, provided either by the arts organization or school or by accessing trainings provided by others.
- Informal professional development in the form of coaching, co-teaching and other forms of artist-teacher collaboration.
- Collaborative planning for arts learning, often resulting in the development of curriculum and other teaching resources, and sometimes reaching across disciplines, grade levels or even schools (within a district).
- Provision of resources including high-quality arts materials, equipment, instruments and improved arts learning spaces.
At Sunset School in Coos Bay, classroom teachers were supported by arts educators to incorporate arts integration through a combination of modeling, trainings, co-teaching and coaching. As of the 2018-2019 school year, Principal Shelly McKnight required each classroom teacher to set a professional development goal for arts integration and also coordinated formal and peer-to-peer trainings to support teachers in reaching those goals.
Studio to School projects often combined multiple approaches (sequential, integration and exposure) and disciplines (e.g., dance and theater, music and visual art, or video production and storytelling). Some programs offered opportunities both during and outside of school, including over weekends or summers. Others shored up or expanded existing programming while also establishing new programming or offered a combination of professional development for teachers and arts learning opportunities for students. Each project had its own creative blend of approaches based on its goals and on student, teacher, school and community interests and needs. In certain cases, this also meant that their approach changed over the course of the Initiative, as project teams and school contexts shifted or as teams better understood student and teacher needs.
The Ethos/Elkton team at Elkton Charter School primarily emphasized sequential opportunities, establishing in-school music and band classes at the elementary school and strengthening existing music classes for upper grades. The team also incorporated arts exposure opportunities by bringing in guest artists, musicians and workshops.
In Harney County, the team expanded arts integration programming at Hines Middle School. And they didn’t stop there. The project’s many facets—which included artist residencies in theater, puppetry, video, leather tooling and opera—provided valuable sequential instruction and exposure opportunities for students in this rural frontier region.
Improving arts education through Studio to School
By working on arts learning program quality, the projects demonstrated their commitment to continuous improvement; they applied what they learned to adapt and improve their efforts throughout the Initiative.
Improvement efforts often included investing in high-quality materials and equipment (including instruments, visual arts supplies, and technology). Many project teams also transformed physical spaces to be more conducive to undertaking or celebrating arts learning. Many also updated or improved their curriculum or systematized processes to facilitate embedding arts education in the school.
In some projects, improvement entailed expanded opportunities for students to engage with the broader community, work on collaborative projects, and grapple with real-world challenges through the arts. Often, project teams incorporated student leadership and voice in ways that strengthened student investment and engagement in arts programming.
Spotlight on Studio to School Projects
All 18 Studio to School projects endeavored to tailor high-quality arts education to their organizational, school and community strengths and needs, using a wide range of approaches to deliver arts education across a range of disciplines.
The stories spotlighted in the boxes below represent just a portion of the hard work successes and challenges of the projects. To learn more about what the projects had in common, see What We've Learned and Studio to School Principles.