Who We Are: What is Whole Schools? What is arts integration?

The Whole Schools Initiative is an arts integrated conceptual approach to re-designing school environments that create a culture of collaboration and transparency. Leading from the inside out, the WSI is activated around inspiring the entire community toward increased student engagement by promoting deep learning. The arts provide the arena for discovery.

Arts integration is not about art activities added to regular instruction to make it more appealing. Arts integration is not about covering the standards. Arts integration is about uncovering the standards, exploring their mysteries, and engaging the arts to create expressions of those explorations. Arts integration requires critical thought and original research when activated around big ideas, challenging themes and interesting questions that bring the content standards to life.

WSI trainings bring interdisciplinary, arts integrated instructional ideas to the school community that is student centered and maintains the integrity of each artistic discipline. This methodology seeks to increase depth of understanding, is aligned with established national standards and incorporates multiple intelligences and specific learning modalities.

Whole Schools Initiative programing assists teachers in setting clear expectations for student work, encourages formative and summative assessments, involves community resources in and out of school, develops higher order thinking skills and problem solving, respects and encourages multiple solutions to problems, acknowledges and is sensitive to the diversity of learners and society and focuses thinking toward seeing patterns and connections at a conceptual level related to topics of broader studies. These skills will be required by the 21st century workforce.

The following is video testimony of Vicki Moorehead of St. Anthony Catholic School, Madison, who received a special NCEA award from the Elementary Department as the “Outstanding Catholic Educator” from our region. This interview speaks to the importance of arts integration in her work at the school:

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Phase I: Whole Schools Project (1991-1998):

  • Began in 1991 as a response to “back to basics” school reform
  • Characterized by the involvement of every student and teacher in a school
  • Called for the integration of the arts into daily classroom instruction and sequential, comprehensive instruction in dance, drama, visual arts, and music by certified arts specialists
  • Piloted in six elementary schools throughout the state, including Pierce Street, Tupelo
  • Grants and technical assistance offered schools
  • Evaluation results
    • increased standardized test scores
    • increased community involvement and support
    • parental involvement tripled at one school
    • teacher morale improved overall
    • decreased absenteeism among both students and teachers
    • decreased discipline referrals
    • school environments transformed visually and culturally
    • “authentic” assessment increased
    • schedules created that allowed for substantive planning between classroom teachers and arts specialists that resulted in exemplary arts-integrated thematic units
  • Evaluation team identified the following components as essential to the success of the model:
    • on-going, apposite professional development
    • leadership support and training for principals, superintendents, and project directors
    • continued internal and external evaluation
    • establishment of mentors within key groups

In 1996, Mississippi State University was commissioned by MAC and MAAE to conduct a survey on the status of arts instruction in Mississippi public schools that revealed the poverty of arts instruction in Mississippi schools. Among the findings: one full-time music teacher for every 840 students, including high school band programs; one full-time visual art teacher for every 3,150 students; one full-time drama teacher for every 17,848 students; and one full-time dance teacher for every 31,235 students. Research conducted more recently revealed that, in 1999, the ratios of arts teachers to students remain little changed.

Phase II: Whole Schools Initiative (1998-the present):

  • Elementary, middle and high schools now participate
  • Elementary/middle models geographically located – Delta, North, Central, South
  • Individual programs are driven by a five-year strategic plan
  • Two essential components: the use of arts teachers and visiting artists in the areas of dance, drama, music, visual art, creative writing and folk arts to strengthen the place of the arts as a core academic subject in its own right; and the integration of the arts in all academic subjects in order to increase student success in these subjects
  • Support available to schools: program director, grant funds, technical assistance (strategic planning, grant writing, etc.), mentoring (field advisors, senior schools), resources, and sequential professional development (summer institutes and retreats)
  • Comprehensive project evaluation through a national assessment team
  • Specialized training for administrators, Mississippi artists, field advisors, etc.

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Teachers holding hands

During the 2001 Strategic Planning Sessions with WSI schools the following goals emerged from every group. The wording varied somewhat, but the intent remained the same.

  1. To improve student academic achievement through the integration of the arts into the core curriculum.
  2. To enrich the lives of students by increasing their skills and knowledge in all arts disciplines.
  3. To assist the professional and personal growth of teachers and administrators through the arts.
  4. To use the arts to increase parental and community involvement in schools.
  5. To build a sustainable system for supporting arts integration and arts infusion.

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