This fall, Austin students welcomed a new arts program: the Creative Classroom. The pilot project was created with mindPOP, an exciting initiative committed to expanding creative learning for kids and teens across Austin. The organization's fresh approach brings together arts educators in communities and schools, then funds ideas and coordinates efforts that help local students become inspired thinkers. The Creative Classroom is a complimentary program that will ensure AISD students have access to creative learning opportunities and fine arts at school.
"We have tremendous resources in our teachers and arts organziations," says Dr. Brent Hasty, Executive Director of mindPOP. "Our goal is to make certain all students have the opportunities to benefit from these valuable learning resources."
Creative Classroom is grounded in national research that shows that involving students in the arts improves their academic performance, attendance and behavior. One study found that low-income students attending arts-rich schools are more than twice as likely to attend college. This has special significance for AISD. More than 60 percent of students qualify for government lunch programs, indicating disadvantaged backgrounds, and many are not proficient in English.
"We have a Superintendent, Dr. Meria Carstarphen, who understands how creative learning can promote rigorous inquiry, the persistence required for excellence, and a joy for learning," Hasty says. Because Austin defines itself as an artistic center, he argues, its schools should have that same identity. "A city as creative and innovative as Austin, deserves schools that promote creative learning."
McCallum High School is serving as the development site, with its nationally recognized Fine Arts Program which has been around since 1993. The 25,000 square foot facility showcases a theater and three state-of-the-art classrooms. “McCallum stands for creativity, inclusiveness and success for every student – and I can’t think of a better recipe to elevate public education,” said Superintendent Meria Carstarphen.
Currently, Austin students do not have equal access to creative learning and these inequities have a critical impact on their creative development, the most valuable trait identified by 1500 CEOs for 21st century leaders. Creativity also has a huge impact on academic achievement as well as social and personal development; students engaged in the arts report increased empathy, are more likely to volunteer, participate in civic life and say they are less bored in school. "Each of these four benefits are worthy enough on their own to advocate for increased creative learning in schools," Hasty says, "but when you look at the combined range of benefits, it proves an effective way to make a lot of significant improvements in the lives of our young people with a single effort."
The idea for mindPOP came when local philanthropic leaders noticed several patterns in the funding requests they were receiving, and wondered if they could address some of the systemic problems preventing their grant recipients from maximizing their impact. At the same time, the Create Austin plan was put in place to address the delivery of arts education in K-12 schools. A unique collaboration of educators, arts groups and funders came together, all of whome were passionate about the impact of creative learning on student success. With enthusiastic endorsement from Dr. Carstarphen, the partners were on their way.
The three main goals of mindPOP are:
- To identify and close gaps in access
- To connect students to community arts programs
- To promote arts-enriched instruction by classroom teachers and teaching artists
A huge step forward came in August 2011, when Austin became the seventh partner city for the Kennedy Center's Any Given Child designation. "It represents a tremendous opportunity for the arts community, the schools and the city to work together to make certain 'any given child' in Austin has access to creative learning," Hasty says. "With the help of their consultants, we will conduct a survey of current access and develop a plan to make certain students have both broad and in-depth opportunities to experience the benefits of creative learning."
Artist Dan Egger-Belandria had been working with the Montopolis Recreation Center in East Austin to develop a drumming and performance program for children in need. After receiving a mindPOP grant in conjunction with ARTreach, he visited the center over a period of five weeks to teach the kids fundamentals of drumming.
"I'm really proud of these guys," Egger-Belandria said. "They showed up every time and proved to me that they were serious about learning and working together - the basics of life skills for youth and adults alike."
According to Hasty, this type of partnership demonstrates how mindPOP is working with schools, universities and arts organizations to make our delivery of certain creative learning maximizes these benefits for our young people. "I hope everyone associated with a school asks their school leaders how they are promoting creative learning."