The Springfield Regional Arts Integration Conference teaches local educators how to incorporate art into the lessons, no matter what subject they teach. (Photo: Springfield Regional Arts Council)

This article is part of The Arts & Culture Reporting Corps, sponsored by the Springfield Regional Arts Council. The Daily Citizen newsroom was not involved in the creation of this content.

When a student struggles with a certain subject area, such as adding fractions or learning sight words, area educators who have been through the Springfield Regional Arts Integration Conference have an impactful tool in their toolbox: just add art. 

“Art is a universal language,” said Genevieve Kroenke, Bingham Elementary School art teacher. “It goes across any practice, any language and culture.”

Kroenke, who has also taught grades 3-5, has presented at the conference for three years. She says that teaching arts integration concepts can really open educators’ eyes.

“We tend to think you have to be artsy or good at art to do art, but this practice helps show that art can go across any content, it can be incorporated in any area,” she said.

Integrating art in the classroom

Arts Integration, as defined by The Kennedy Center, is “an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form.” 

Kroenke, who has taught in Title 1 schools, has been integrating arts into her lessons for years.

“It was something I saw a need for,” Kroenke said. “I had kids who would struggle with fractions or math, and math didn’t always come easy for me either. If I was able to add art to the lesson, it took the pressure off and students didn’t feel like they were doing math, and I could reach them better.”

She adds that art is an impactful way of crossing barriers and reaching students in ways she couldn’t through standard lesson plans. 

After attending arts integration conferences in Washington, D.C. and Kansas City, Breana Kavanaugh, coordinator of fine arts for Springfield Public Schools (SPS), realized this was an opportunity perfect for Springfield-area educators.

“It became a passion of mine to introduce more arts integration to the SPS district and staff,” Kavanaugh said. “Plus, it’s such a great under-utilized teaching strategy.”

Minecraft mosaic portraits can help students learn about fractions, perimeter and area while creating art. (Photo: Springfield Regional Arts Council)

Bringing arts integration to Springfield

To turn this dream into a reality, Kavanaugh collaborated with the Springfield Regional Arts Council (SRAC) in 2019. SRAC marketing director Sarah Abele says that this collaborative conference highlights one of the many ways the SRAC helps fulfill its mission of transforming lives and enriching the community through the arts.

“Children who participate in arts-integration lesson plans aren’t just learning facts, they are growing in their understanding of the facts,” Abele said. “Arts integration provides much deeper and lasting understanding for the students that allow them to more readily apply their learning in other situations.”

This year’s conference, held at Central High School July 18-19, will feature break-out sessions with Kennedy Center teaching artists Harlan Brownlee, Daniel Barash and Kay Thomas, plus hands-on learning experiences, breakfast presentations and swag bags.

“There are so many great things to look forward to this year,” Abele said. In addition to the three nationally recognized teaching artists, she says Dr. Grenita Lathan, superintendent of SPS, is providing the keynote speech. “We’ll also have a session with Jenny Schwartzberg, museum educator from the Springfield Art Museum, and an early morning yoga session with Sunni Nutt with Sunnshine Yoga LLC focusing on caring for ourselves and our classrooms.”

“I love that Springfield has this conference,” Kroenke said. “We are so fortunate, because of our district’s size, that we have these kinds of opportunities. I hope more teachers take advantage of this conference.”

Helping all students learn

Kennedy Center teaching artists Harlan Brownlee will lead break-out sessions at the Springfield Regional Arts Integration Conference. (Photo: Springfield Regional Arts Council)

Kavanaugh says the SRAIC is a great way to get educators comfortable with the concept of arts integration.

“We have students who need art woven into their lessons,” she said. “This gives our teachers hands-on training with ready-to-go lessons that they can immediately start using in their classroom.”

She adds that not every educator may feel like they can incorporate art into their teaching style, because they don’t have an artistic background. Kroenke says not to let that intimidate anyone, and gives examples of some projects she has used to help students:

  • Drawing cityscapes with buildings and windows to learn multiplication rays and fractions: Students create skyscrapers with multiple rows of windows to learn multiplication rays, or color in some of the windows to discuss fractions.
  • Create Jasper Johns-inspired pieces to work on skip counting: Students use oil pastel to write letters or count by threes, then watercolor over them to create a mixed-media piece.”
  • Make Minecraft mosaics to learn about perimeter and area: Using blocks of paper to create Minecraft-inspired portraits, students can count colors for fractions or determine perimeter and area. 
  • Build mosaics to learn counting and fractions: Students add tiles and objects to their mosaic which can help with counting and sorting. 

“There can be a stigma around learning some of the harder subjects,” Kroenke said. “But when adding art to them, they can be so much fun.”

Kroenke says that after presenting for three years, she is looking forward to attending as a learner.

“I’m excited to sit and learn and listen,” she said, adding she is especially eager for the session on shadow puppetry by Daniel Barash. Creating shadow puppets, according to the SRAIC website, will help students explore and empathize with the emotional life of both characters in literature and the students themselves.

With grant funding from the Missouri Arts Council, Springfield Public School staff are able to attend the conference for free, while regional educators can attend for $150. Registration is available online and closes July 9 at 5 p.m.

For those who are interested in more arts-integration activities, Abele says to look out for Creative Classrooms, which are additional professional development opportunities. These SRAC-hosted events have included yoga for teachers and poetry writing, and are free and open to the public. For more information, visit the Springfield Regional Arts Council website.