A World with the Arts

  • Written by: Theresa Jennings
  • Photos by: Aaron Ford and Kerri McDermid

Photo: Kelly Kleyn, Art Teacher at Hygiene Elementary, helping Julian Hansell explore his creativity through drawing.

In education, there are many learning intersections throughout the day. The patterns and rhythms you feel in music affect neurological pathways that support math. What you learn through art education can be tied to the states of matter, technology, and science. The words you read in novels and textbooks inform your writing. And, the performing arts intersects with all subjects by building confidence, public speaking, problem solving, and leadership skills in students.

For many students, arts classes are a time when their interests evolve and they begin to define themselves, discover their passions, and learn new concepts that shape the young adults they become. St. Vrain Valley Schools understands the impact of a well-designed academic experience that encompasses a foundation in the arts, provides opportunities for students to get involved before and after school, and creates a positive environment that supports student learning.

These foundations are built during art and music classes in elementary school and carried through middle and high school where students can take a wide array of art, music, or theater courses. In addition to learning to draw, paint, sculpt, and code animation, art teaches students planning, reflecting, and perseverance. “Learning how to create art and to be confident in your projects is important,” said Kelly Kleyn, Art Teacher at Hygiene Elementary School. “Art builds students’ confidence in how to draw and allows students to stand by their ideas even if they are different than their neighbors.”

The arts are a great way to engage a different part of your brain and help keep your education balanced. When Hygiene became an official STEAM focus school (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math), it was a way to be more deliberate in the connections between subjects and highlight the strong arts programs at the school. “I have seen teachers use thinking maps with drawings as a brainstorming tool on a project or story,” said Kleyn. “Drawing a character first and thinking about what the character would like or dislike, and empathizing with that character allows students to then write about the character in a story.”

The integration of the design thinking process also allowed students to build connections between classes. “The design thinking process is where we have to think about who we are dealing with (define), then think in their shoes (empathize), next we think of different things of what could work (ideate), we then build our model (prototype), and finally we see if it works (test),” said Julian Hansell, now a sixth grader at Westview Middle School who learned design thinking when he was a student at Hygiene Elementary. “And if it does work, great, but if it doesn’t work, we (restart) to see where it failed.”

One way the entire school incorporates art is through Hawk Air, Hygiene’s annual design challenge where students work to answer one question every year. This theme is incorporated across all subjects. Last year, students created something that could be worn, such as clothing or jewelry, for their theme in art class. “My group made a wheelchair called The Mobile Grandpa,” said Julian. “The user would wear pajamas and could push a button on them connected to an all-terrain wheelchair that was voice commanded.” This team project allowed students to be observant thinkers and create solutions to problems, collaborate, and experiment.

The arts are also another way to reach a student and help them develop an interest or passion. Sometimes students who struggle in core courses learn best through the arts programs. “Every kid has a story, and sometimes words do not tell that story,” said Kleyn. “Art is a way for them to communicate their message and it is a way to reflect on themselves and others.”

“It teaches the skills that are needed to be successful in life. Things like empathy, problem solving, and critical-thinking skills are all found in the theater.”

Kelsea Sibold, Frederick High Senior

Photo: Sunset Middle School seventh grade students, Izaiah Grimaldo and Kevin Ontiveros, playing their tenor saxophones during band rehearsal.

From the foundations learned in elementary school to theater in high school, the arts take center stage and showcase confidence, teamwork, and critical thinking through lessons learned in the tech booth, the orchestra pit, and across the stage.

“I’m honored to be at Erie High because there is an understanding, knowledge, and support of the importance of what is happening in the arts,” said Scott Wright, Drama Teacher at Erie High School. “And, how important that is to student development and social aspects.” Wright teaches six full-time theater classes and he has been able to grow the program to get more and more students involved. “I don’t care if you are going to be the next Broadway star, I want you to love the art,” said Wright.

At Frederick High, the theater program is thriving with past productions including Newsies, Beauty and the Beast, The Diary of Anne Frank, and many others that draw students from all backgrounds. Kelsea, a senior at Frederick High radiates a passion for theater. “Theater positively influences your academic achievement, GPA, and attendance – all of these things that we are trying to make better in schools,” said Kelsea. “It teaches the skills that are needed to be successful in life. Things like empathy, problem solving, and critical-thinking skills are all found in the theater.”

Many students also find their voice and confidence through the theater programs across St. Vrain. “The drama classes are a safe place to make a mistake and work through those mistakes,” describes Wright. “Theater is a family, you open up so much of yourself to perform on stage in front of an audience and you are trusting the people you are with.”

From building this confidence, students develop their voice in their classrooms, schools, and beyond. Frederick High senior, Kelsea, is on a mission to advocate for the arts in schools. “A lot of what I do as a State Thespian Officer is advocacy,” detailed Kelsea. “I went to the state capitol and I was able to speak to our state representatives about the importance of theater.”

Kelsea was also able to be a voice for the arts on St. Vrain’s Student Advisory Committee comprised of juniors and seniors from high schools throughout St. Vrain, and district and board leadership. She was able to make sure that the issues she cares about are part of the conversation. And, with that voice, Kelsea described what her perfect opportunity for theater would be, “I would love to create a districtwide honor theater program like honors choir, orchestra, and band,” said Kelsea. “There are so many benefits for college that come from having access to high-level opportunities such as the district art show.”

From the front of the house to behind the scenes, tech takes over as a focus for many students who are looking to join the theater family and demonstrate their skills. “What I love about tech is that it gives students who would not normally be involved in the arts a reason to get involved in theater,” explained Kelsea. “We have students who found programs to run, map our projections, and a lot of our animations are done on our own.”

From computer technology to science foundations, lessons from these subjects fill the auditorium. “The tech side of theater allows you to learn sound and light techniques in a practical environment and you can see the different ways that you can manipulate it versus a theoretical class where you may only be reading about it,” described Wright. “Here, you are seeing and changing it in class.”

Many skills learned in English inform the students’ ability to dissect scripts and discover where a character comes from. Then there is a direct correlation with history and the time period as students study each new script and play. “They talk about how theater helps in other classes, but those other classes also help in theater,” says Wright. “You need those critical-thinking skills and problem-solving skills for math and science.”

Whether it is art, theater, or music, the arts are alive all year in St. Vrain.

By the Numbers: Impact of the Arts

students enrolled in visual arts, theater, and music classes at the middle and high school levels.
secondary classes in visual arts, theater, and music offered across the district.
All-State musicians in the 2017-2018 school year.
66 elementary music and art programs — available at every school in the district.

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ST. VRAINNOVATION was produced in-house by the St. Vrain Department of Communications.
ST. VRAINNOVATION and other district initiatives are generously supported by these and many other community sponsors.

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