“Oh, oh, oh, ostrich,” Cari Johnson, student-volunteer for ArtsBridge program, says. “Your turn.”
“Oh, oh, oh, ostrich,” a group of 21 kindergartners from Wilson Elementary School in Logan, responds simultaneously, using their tiny fingers to draw O’s around their mouths.
In Camie Palmer’s classroom at Wilson Elementary School, learning to read requires more than looking at a book. The 5- and 6-year-old children are rapt listeners as Johnson, a USU student, teaches them basic phonics with Reading in Motion, a program using rhythm, body movement and music that teaches children to read.
In the 45-minute class, students hardly sit still for more than a few moments at a time. While singing they use small instruments and break down words into rhythmic syllables, Johnson said, which helps them learn and retain knowledge they may have otherwise not been able to focus on.
“It’s an amazing program,” said Sundee Ware, principal of Wilson Elementary. “They apply the academics, make it creative and connect all those brain cells, all those dendrites, and it just puts it all together and helps them explore.”
Johnson, a senior majoring in elementary education, is in her third semester working with Reading in Motion, which falls under the USU ArtsBridge program.
The College of Education and Human Services supports the program, along with the Caine College of the Arts, and is funded by grants and donation money. The program utilizes art to teach core subjects like literature and math in classrooms.
USU ArtsBridge Director Holly Conger said the program creates better students, better schools and eventually better communities. Currently, there are ArtsBridge programs at 24 universities in 13 states.
According to data from the College Board, students who take four years of art and music classes have an SAT score averaging more than 100 points higher on the critical reading and math portions than students who take less than half a year of art.
“With the arts being so broad, there’s a higher chance of reaching somebody,” Conger said. “It might be through music, and it might be through creative movement. If not through creative movement, it might be through visual arts. There are so many avenues for the arts to reach the children.”
Although a large part of the USU ArtsBridge program focuses on elementary schools, it has recently taken on new ground by moving into high schools, most notably Fast Forward Charter High School, a public school with a strong emphasis on art, primarily designed to help at-risk students. Mauro Diaz graduated from Fast Forward and completed the ArtsBridge program last year.
When Diaz described his art, he used words such as, “technical” and “intricate”. At the same time, Diaz said he enjoys death-metal music and getting his hands on his first guitar at 12 years old. He said he believes art is the ultimate form of sophistication.
“I think art, in general, whatever art anybody uses, is a way to express yourself and open a new voice in mind and expand knowledge. Music is my art,” Diaz said.
Last year, Diaz was one of six ArtsBridge scholars from Fast Forward. The scholars spent their senior year putting together portfolios of their work and planning events based around their art.
By the time he graduated, Diaz said he organized and preformed in multiple benefit concerts with the help of Todd Milovich, the education outreach coordinator for the Access and Diversity Center.
Milovich said graduating with experience as an ArtsBridge scholar will help them find footing in the work force. Humanities, he said, are a basic part of education that teach human beings how to relate to one another — something that can’t be done away with due to budget cuts.
“They are not going to go out and work in any kind of professional field where they’re not going to meet people from every ethnicity,” he said. “It’s so important that people be able to relate to everybody to succeed in the workforce — period.”
Diaz is now an undeclared freshman at USU, who said he never saw himself attending college. Three years ago, he was a 15-year-old ready to start his freshman year at Logan High School.
Before officially enrolling at Logan High School, he found Fast Forward, which was a move that changed his life, he said. Now, his goal is to work toward a career in sound production. Like Diaz, all six of the recent ArtsBridge scholars were accepted to universities.
“Every child needs to learn the fundamentals if the core curriculum of English, science, math and social studies,” Conger said. “Creative process is crucial to implementing that knowledge in unique ways.”
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