When it comes to reading and literacy, 3rd grade is a pivotal year, and both students and teachers at James Russell Lowell Elementary School 51 feel the pressure. It’s why they’ve committed themselves to implementing innovative strategies to meet the needs of their students, including a three-year Any Given Child Indy initiative to boost literacy through theatre.
The Literacy Education through Arts Partnerships initiative, or LEAP, uses theatre methods to teach reading and literacy skills. Fall of 2018 marked the beginning of a three-year relationship between students at School 51 and teaching artists from The Sapphire Theatre Company. School 51 was selected by the IPS Superintendent because of their gaps in access to arts education as well as the fact that 74% of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. In the first semester of the program, students learned about environmental conservancy through the readers’ theatre teaching methodology, which after 10 weeks of arts-integrated workshops, culminated in a performance for their peers and families.
Using the fables “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse” and “The Lion and the Mouse” as the guiding framework, students participated in improvisation games that influenced the original script performed during the culminating performance, one in which every student got to speak. Over the multiple sessions, students mastered environmental conservation vocabulary words like reduce, reuse, recycle, biodegradable, and compost. In addition, many also experienced a boost in confidence, expressing in post-performance evaluations that they “liked performing in front of people.” During the spring 2019 semester, students will tackle social justice issues inspired by the fable “The Scorpion and the Frog.”
It’s because of innovative programs like these that School 51 is outperforming other Indianapolis Public Schools on the IREAD-3 exam by 8.3 percentage points. Abida Muhammad, School 51’s Instructional Coach, has taken on the challenge and the risk of managing such programs, hoping to expose students to new opportunities and disrupt the learning environment with fresh ideas and approaches to learning. With IREAD-3 scores on the decline statewide, she acknowledges the need to do away with the tradition and embrace emerging pedagogies.
The LEAP program is generously supported by a Partnering Arts, Communities, and Education (PACE) grant from the Indiana Arts Commission. The PACE program establishes long-term, in-depth and sustainable partnerships between schools, artists, and their sponsoring arts organization to measurably impact student growth in arts and literacy skills, self-image and confidence, and in-class engagement. Rigorous data collection paired with qualitative success inspire PACE schools to continue this work as they recognize the program’s overall positive impact on school culture.