What's wrong with IPS arts education, and how it can be fixed 

Any Given Child program measures state of Indianapolis Public Schools' arts education

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What if there was a way to get four times as many kids in Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) to take part in science and math fairs?

What about a way to ensure that students at Washington Irving Elementary School — one of 11 schools that Superintendent of IPS Lewis Ferebee said he was most worried about in 2014 — were three times as likely to win an academic award?

Right now there are four committees in Indy who are trying to do these things and more. Each committee is focused on one thing: overhauling arts education in the Indianapolis Public School system.

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The remake began at the 2015 Start with Art luncheon — a mile marker in Indy's yearly arts scene schedule — when the biggest announcement in recent memory came down the pipeline.

Indy was to be the next city for a program, developed by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C., called Any Given Child.

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In a nutshell, Any Given Child doesn't fork over a grant. The program provides a $125,000 toolbox of guidance and assistance to IPS's administrators, arts orgs and other city leaders to help find out where arts education in IPS schools is falling short and what to do about it. The program is set to take place over five years but what will make or break it is how well the city gets behind the initiative. All of the funding that makes a difference in Any Given Child programs generally comes from local sources.

The Kennedy Center itself is funded by the National Committee for the Performing Arts and the President's Advisory Committee on the Arts. The portion that governs Any Given Child is funded by David and Alice Rubenstein and an endowment from Newman's Own Foundation.

The program's overall goal is to identify problems in specific education systems — namely, where the arts are lacking. And it has worked well in other states.

In a school system in Austin, Tex., funds from the Any Given Child program helped add the equivalent of 8.5 full-time creative learning positions, and in cooperation with the community there was over two million dollars raised to support art education.

In a school system in Sacramento, Calif. — the city where Any Given Child was launched — today 100 percent of students have the opportunity to participate in the arts through increased art classes and enhanced collaboration with local arts organizations, compared to 2009, when it was a mere 17 percent.

The 2015 announcement was extremely hopeful for Indy. NUVO set out to examine what implementation of the program's funding will really look like, how it will make a lasting change and to highlight what still needs to be done to make the program sustainable.

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What brought us here?

IPS schools currently have little requirement for any kind of art as part of the core classes — legally — but that doesn't mean arts ed hasn't been on the mind of Dr. Wanda H. Legrand, Deputy Superintendent for Academics at IPS for a long time. This school year is the first where every single child going back to school for the fall will learn from an arts teacher (of some kind) during their week.

Last year IPS Superintendent Ferebee made a decision that seemed like a prologue to Any Given Child. He required every school to have an art, music or physical education teacher, which meant that 32 full-time teachers were hired to fill empty roles as arts educators at IPS schools.

The total cost of the mass hiring was $2.1 million.

While some of those are combined (a PE teacher might also be a dance instructor, which could count as an arts educator for example) or teachers may cover more than one school at a time, this was the first time that each IPS location was required to have a teacher dedicated to the arts. Some portions were up to the school, like whether music classes meant vocal or instrumental.

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"That proposal came from the first two years of the Superintendent and I discussing how it varies," says Legrand. "It didn't seem equal to all kids ... it's hard to say that it's fair to only have a teacher one day a week."

She notes that some kids have art class once every two weeks, and some of those could be for as little as 45 minutes at a time. By the time kids get out and clean up supplies, that doesn't leave much time.

While it was a step in the right direction, Legrand hopes that Any Given Child will shine a light on what to do next.

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A year into implementation of the initiative, the program has taken the first problem-solving step — identify the issues. And the partnership isn't something that IPS takes lightly.

"We don't jump on a lot of bandwagons, but when we join, we join to be fully committed to it," says Legrand. "If it's not something that we will be committed to then we just don't create the partnership."

The last 12 months have been spent collecting data regarding public arts education through surveys and the formation of a series of four committees: 1) creative engagement, 2) professional development, 3) budget and resources and evolution and 4) assessment of the plan.

These four groups will oversee how the overhaul shakes out over the next five years. And the end goal is simple.

"I want every school — and every child K through 8 — to be exposed to all the areas and types of art that exist," says Legrand. "... And not have that be determined by past experiences or past happenings at that school."

She also notes that she doesn't want the school's location — being near an arts organization — to impact how often a student sees someone from places like the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra or Art with a Heart, a visual arts nonprofit for at-risk kids.

Betty Perry, who founded the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra, makes a point to give music opportunities to kids who might not have access to classical music in their schools.

"We are working in an underserved neighborhood," says Perry. "... We specifically have targeted inner-city kids without the exclusion of other children."

For Christel House Academy arts teacher Mary Jo Bayliss, her biggest struggles are the one that her students deal with every day — violence and the confidence to try new things.

"With all of their classes they are afraid to try new things because they are afraid of being wrong. It affects their confidence levels," says Bayliss. "That means when we teach we really need to praise successes and take things in small steps."

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The flaws in IPS arts education

The first year of Any Given Child, according to Ernest Disney-Britton, Director of Grant Services & Education Partnerships at the Arts Council of Indianapolis, is about finding the flaws in the foundation.

"[It's] to identify what the gaps are, what the resources are that are available for individual schools, and what are the resources available for arts organizations coming into schools," says Disney-Britton.

Those gaps — and some hopeful desires — were identified through a survey that was filled out by 715 classroom teachers, 61 art specialists, 216 other teachers, 41 administrators and 53 arts organizations.

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"We know from our survey that teachers see — they validate — that the arts are a motivator in terms of being engaged in the school," says Disney-Britton. "... We saw that in the survey in terms of the impact of the arts programming. By spending that time, we were able to look at what some of the gaps are —particularly what some of the major barriers are to expanding arts education."

One of the biggest barriers is between arts organizations and the schools.

"[Arts organizations] don't know who they should be talking to in the schools in order to provide the kind of services that [the schools] need," says Disney-Britton. "The other side of that is that teachers don't always know who in an organization they should talk to, to link up to, for the kind of curriculum and school they are in."

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He noted that when a small arts organization has the task of contacting 40 elementary schools to find ways to either bring students to them or come into the classroom for special programming, it can be daunting.

One of the most notable gaps from the survey was one IPS school had 16 arts organizations regularly working with teachers at the school, while another only had two that had been in contact. (Disney-Britton wouldn't say which schools were on each end of the spectrum.)

"We aren't going to call out which schools are high engagement or low engagement," says Disney-Britton. "It's not our role to put that kind of spotlight on a different school."

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Dr. Legrand, though not commenting on this particular example, was more forthright about schools that were surpassing arts education standards and those that were lacking. She noted that schools like Washington Irving Elementary or Ralph Waldo Emerson Elementary currently don't have opportunities for things like dance or theater, but one of the goals of Any Given Child is to create partnerships with local art organizations. Theoretically, teachers at Ralph Waldo Emerson could get Young Actors Theatre to come provide a performance art opportunity, or Washington Irving could partner with Children's Dance Theater.

Performance arts were the biggest hole that needed filling in IPS schools, according to the data collected by the Arts Council.

"I think what I was pleasantly surprised to see [from the survey] was that so many core teachers ... say they wanted to integrate the arts," says Legrand. "Maybe 95 percent said they would be trained to do it."

The survey revealed that it was 94 percent of teachers who "would take part in professional development in 'arts integration' if given the opportunity."

Some of the aspects of the survey results didn't surprise Legrand at all. She knew that teachers felt a constraint on instructional time due to intensive testing. This is something that State Superintendent Glenda Ritz voiced her hopes to change. She noted in a statement from April of this year: "I have said for years that Indiana needs to get away from the expensive, high-stakes, pass-fail mindset of ISTEP and instead use an assessment that actually works for students, parents and teachers."
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The survey also showed frustration with lack of funding; considering that funding was not increased for 12 of the 25 lowest-income IPS schools last year, that frustration is understandable. Especially since the Indiana legislature voted in 2015 for 25 higher income school districts to receive more student aid (to be dispersed over 2015 and 2016), according to Chalkbeat Indiana.

"Those [frustrations] came out in the survey, but I wasn't surprised by them," says Legrand.

She noted that teachers expressed a strong interest in finding ways to weave arts into math, science and social studies.

"The were willing to do it; they just needed to be trained on how to do it," says Legrand.

"They are very interested in innovation and creativity," says Disney-Britton. "One of the things the superintendent has mentioned that one of the things [through] walking around and listening to parents [is that] he heard the parents wanted to see more arts programming and more opportunity to be engaged in the arts for their kids."

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Some kids have distinct advantage over others when it comes to accessing the arts — like simply being able to attend a magnet or Choice school within IPS, both of which have more arts programming.

Schools like Broad Ripple Arts and Humanities, William A. Bell School No. 60 and Edison School for the Arts are known for their art classes. It's Legrand's hope that Any Given Child will eventually create training classes to show teachers how to integrate art into STEM classes or get more arts organizations into IPS doors.

"We probably couldn't do as much as we do at Edison, but at least they [will be] exposed like Edison in all of our schools, says Legrand.

"The gap was very pronounced if you were a Choice School or a not Choice School," says Legrand. "Any Given Child wants to make sure that no matter what school you attend — as a K through eighth grader — you do have an exposure to the arts."

A Choice School is defined by a "specialized curriculum, innovative themes, unique teaching techniques or magnet certification," according to information provided by Indianapolis Public Schools. Choice School lotteries are partially controlled by factors like having a child already attending the school — families with one child attending already are more likely to have another child accepted.

Choice Schools arts programming isn't always defined by initial talent. One of Edison's strong suits is that students don't have to demonstrate proficiency in the arts for acceptance; they just have to be willing to learn. The result is a school with ample art classes.

Legrand notes that she thinks the best way to address the fact that some IPS schools only have an art or music class once every week is for arts organizations to communicate with schools, showing them what they can provide.

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Solutions at work 

While there is no easy solution for the big questions — like how to address the amount of classroom time that is dominated by rigorous STEM testing or how to ensure that the city financially backs the plans laid out by Any Given Child for IPS — there are a few steps already in progress.

The committees formed by Any Given Child Indy only started meeting this August, which means that a lot is still up in the air. However, Disney-Britton has a few ideas on how to get the ball rolling.

The first is "arts for art's sake," meaning an increase in traditional art classes. While the first step was already addressed by IPS when they ensured that each school has an art teacher of some kind, it will likely involve a lot of fundraising and help from the legislature.

The second is "arts infusion." This is where arts organizations around Indy come into play. For example, if a class is learning about their founding fathers, a trip to see a production of Hamilton might be in order. This part would likely fall on the shoulders of community partners.

The third is "arts integration." Tangibly, this means getting more teachers trained on how to incorporate the arts into STEM classes. Disney-Britton gave the nod to programs similar to StreamLines Indy — where students would be creating an artistic production of their own in the classroom. Maybe that means their own version of Hamilton, or when learning about waterways in science class, they choreograph a dance that reflects the patterns they learned that week.

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It's Disney-Britton's goal to have every school taking part in one of these approaches, and hopefully it will conquer the trickle-down of national struggles.

"Nationally, we are seeing a decline in arts education and arts funding as well," says Disney-Britton.

The Indianapolis Public Schools System is, however, poised to succeed like the other Any Given Child school systems.

Barbara Shepherd, Director of National Partnerships with The Kennedy Center, has been to Indy seven times over the last year to ensure that the program started off on the right foot. She was taken aback by how open and ready Indy was as a whole to the program — even more so than other cities around the country.

"[Indy] was one of the easier sites to work with because people were ready to work when we got there, [they were] right on board and could make things happen right away," says Shepherd.

"We are better positioned than a lot of places," says Disney-Britton.

Now it's up to the city, Indy arts organizations and IPS to translate the goals of revitalizing arts education into reality.


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Emily Taylor

Emily Taylor

Emily is the arts editor at NUVO, where she covers everything from visual art to comedy. In fact she is probably at a theater production right now. Before joining the ranks here, she worked for Indianapolis Monthly and Gannett. You can find her thoughts about Indy scattered throughout the NUVO arts section and... more

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