Integrating the Arts and Literacy

Handmade books in art class

In 2012, Laurel Meadow Elementary School integrated the arts and literacy in a memorable learning experience for students. Art teacher Jamesha Hairston created an inspiring Partners in the Arts Engaging Creative Thinkers (ECT) Award project for Hanover County Public Schools: Laurel Meadow Lion’s Den: An Interactive Reading Environment.

Art as Books, Books as Art

For the first part of the project, 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders made books – beautiful artists’ books – and then created content for them, developing their non-fiction writing skills on subjects related to the science and social studies curriculum. A team of Laurel Meadow educators collaborated on the project with Ms. Hairston – among them the librarian, instructional technology resource teacher, reading specialist, and classroom teachers. The books that the students made were displayed in the school library.

During a school visit by Partners in the Arts director Liz Sheehan, fourth graders were working with artist Ginna Cullen as they assembled their books. Ms. Cullen showed them a number of books she had made so they could see what was possible. The children were in awe: you can do that with paper and cardboard? Ms. Cullen’s hand-made books were incredibly beautiful, some simple and some complex, with detailed hand-sewn spines.

Murals and More

In the spring, the 4th and 5th grade students worked with visual artist Janet (JC) Gilmore-Bryan on a mural for the reading area in the school library, the Lion’s Den. Can you guess what the school’s mascot is? The students learned how murals impact the environment and how they can celebrate community. Then they brainstormed as a group to create a design for their mural.

ECT Awards Endure

Joan and Holly receive PIA Awards

Joan Oates (left) and Holly Rice in 2012

The PIA ECT Awards funded cross-curricular, thematic projects that use the arts to change the way core subjects such as history, math, and science are taught. We believe that teachers and other educators who are close to the classroom are the best people to develop these projects. They know what will work and what will ignite student interest. They also know which of their colleagues would be perfect to be part of the team that carries out the project along with visiting artists. Awards for up to $10,000 each were given to selected schools from the PIA consortium and were designed to make lasting changes in how the curriculum is taught. They also help build students’ 21st century skills, including innovation, collaboration, and critical thinking.

In the past Joan Oates, founder of PIA and namesake of the annual summer Institute, handed out trophies to award recipients. In 2012, she was joined by special guest Holly Rice, who co-founded Partners in the Arts. Holly gave her all to make sure PIA was a well-established and successful program. Holly lives in Los Angeles now, but was able to be part of the event to talk about her experience with PIA and the value of the arts in PK-12 education.

Take a look at the workshops that were offered at the 2012 Joan Oates Institute (JOI) in the video below. Since 2012, Partners in the Arts has offered teachers practice in bookmaking with artists such as Aijung Kim and murals with Hamilton Glass and the Mending Walls RVA Project. Since 1994, teachers have taken these and other creative forms practiced in JOI back to their classrooms to inspire thousands of students.

Partners in the Arts (PIA) awarded Engaging Creative Thinkers (ECT) grants to teachers from 1994 to 2021. These grants made possible over 200 innovative, interdisciplinary projects in Richmond area schools. Since then, the PIA consortium has supported both educator professional development and in-school project implementation through the Joan Oates Institute for Integrated Learning.

The ECT Awards provided opportunities for teachers to reach all students across content areas, while developing critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication, and citizenship. ECT projects engaged a class, grade-level or, whole school, and connected teachers, students, families, and the community.

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