Lafayette schools and local artists use experiences to help students grow academically
When Lynne Clearfield enters the classroom, it’s quiet. The second graders are sitting in their desks, arranged in three rows.
Clearfield moves to the front of the classroom while the teacher sits at her desk in the back. Clearfield turns on the speaker hanging at her hip and adjusts the microphone around her neck. When she asks the students how they’re doing on this Thursday morning, most respond with an enthusiastic thumbs up.
It’s one of Clearfield’s first movement arts lessons of the new school year with this class at Broadmoor Elementary School, so the lesson is focused on the basics. Her goal is to get the students to understand movement arts and to get engaged.
This particular lesson is about making circles with their bodies. When Clearfield begins having the students make circles – first with their heads, then with their arms, bellies, hips and legs – some of the class is more enthusiastic than others. The boys, in particular, are slow to get going.
But by the end of the 30-minute lesson, the boys’ initial resistance has completely evaporated. A few of the boys even volunteered to perform a dance in front of their classmates, but all were enthusiastically moving in circles by the end.
Clearfield’s lesson is part of the Acadiana Center for the Arts’ Primary Academic and Creative Experiences program, called PACE for short. This school year is the first where PACE teaching artists – like Clearfield – will get in front of all PreK-3 students across the Lafayette Parish School System.
"PACE artists provide our students with a variety of rich art opportunities," LPSS Superintendent Irma Trosclair said. "Such initiatives provide students with well-rounded and impactful education experiences. We are fortunate to have community resources such as this accessible to the students we serve."
LEAP 2022:Lafayette schools show growth, work to rebound from COVID
‘It’s a truly significant level of impact’
When Sam Oliver was a student at Woodvale Elementary School, a jazz performance changed his life.
Oliver was in either kindergarten or first grade when everyone was piled into the cafeteria to watch a performance by a three-piece jazz band. After the band played, they talked to the students about how jazz differs from other types of music through its use of improvisation, spontaneity and creativity.
“All of these things just left an impression on me,” Oliver said. “I was familiar with the music on the radio and the Paul Simon CD – first it was a cassette.”
As he grew up, jazz continued to play a role in Oliver’s life. He worked for the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival and loved musicians like Dave Brubeck. Eventually, Oliver returned home to Lafayette to serve as the executive director for the Acadiana Center for the Arts.
It was only after he came back home that he learned the jazz performance at Woodvale – the one that sparked his love of jazz – was put on by the AcA as part of its 40-plus years of involvement in Acadiana schools.
“We know that those circles exist all over the place,” Oliver said. “You never know what door gets opened for a young person that they then walk through and keep going down for the rest of their life. It will truly change the course of their life in big ways or small ways.”
The Acadiana Center for the Arts, which serves as the arts council for the eight-parish Acadiana Region, has been around since 1975. The PACE program has been around for more than two decades, providing arts education for K-3 students in many LPSS elementary schools. Now, the program is growing to reach all PeK-3 students in Lafayette public schools.
All LPSS PreK-3 students will get 16 sessions of either visual arts or movement arts through PACE starting this year.
At the same time, AcA is launching a new program, Arts Experiences for All, that will provide both in-school and off-campus arts experiences for all LPSS students from kindergarten through fifth grade. These experiences will include multiple art forms, including dance, theater, visual arts, music and others.
LPSS:Two Lafayette schools get special recognition from state for LEAP scores
“It’s a truly significant level of impact, and one that has every expectation of continuing annually, indefinitely,” Oliver said. “We’re on year 43 of this program, so we don’t really see it changing, except for growing, as it has year after year.”
‘It’s a deeper learning experience’
Clearfield, who is in her 12th year as a PACE teaching artist, said the first class wasn’t necessarily indicative of a normal movement arts lesson.
Typically, the lesson will be related to something from the curriculum. The first lesson was more about getting the students to understand movement arts and the idea of learning through artistic expression.
The first class was also led by Clearfield, but in future lessons, the students will work in small groups to come up with their own movement art related to what they are learning in class. They may come up with a dance based on glaciers or maybe the different states of matter to help them better understand the concepts.
“Teaching someone about something is very different from teaching someone to be something,” Clearfield said. “If we’re talking about glaciers or plants or whatever it is, it’s a whole different thing to look outside yourself and see the glacier and understand how it works. But when you are the glacier, you understand it in a whole different way.
“It’s a different learning experience. It’s a deeper learning experience.”
In 2017, the American Institutes for Research did an evidence review of studies looking at the success of arts integration programs and found that an average student would be likely to move from the 50th percentile for academic achievement to the 54th percentile with arts integration.
The review found that the success varied by the subject, with English Language Arts, science and social studies generally seeing a more positive impact than math. This year, PACE is focused on social studies and science with LPSS.
More:Lafayette schools ready for 'first normal school year' since beginning of COVID pandemic
‘Amazing artists’ and the ‘beautiful princess’
On the same Thursday when Clearfield was teaching circle-inspired dance moves, around 10 minutes away at Woodvale Elementary School, Kelli Foret Richard met with her own class of “amazing artists.”
On this Thursday, she enters a third-grade gifted classroom while the students are lined up outside the door. The classroom is bright and colorful, complete with a green couch and a polka-dotted rug.
Before the students come into the room, Richard tapes a blank sheet of paper to the Promethean Board at the front of the classroom. Once the students enter and settle into their seats, Richard gives them an enthusiastic greeting.
“Hello, my amazing artists!”
The students are quick to respond in unison: “Hello, beautiful princess!” Then the lesson begins.
Like Clearfield at Broadmoor, Richard said the Thursday class wasn’t typical. She wasn’t focused on a specific part of the curriculum this time, instead going over some of the basic elements of visual arts, such as lines, shapes and colors.
As her lesson began, Richard showed the students two abstract works from Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky. Over the course of the next 30 minutes, each of the students would create their own Kaminsky-esque works of art.
They started with vertical lines – whatever length, however many they wanted. Then horizontal lines, which were followed by horizontal lines. Then came parallel lines, curved lines and zigzags.
Then came shapes. They drew circles in warm colors – red, orange and yellow – using crayons or oil pastels. Then they drew squares with cool colors: blue, green and purple. After the cool squares, they drew shapes of their choice in primary colors.
As they drew their first lines, one student raised his hand to say he made a mistake. His vertical line wasn’t perfectly straight, curving slightly at the tail end. Richard, channeling her inner Bob Ross, told him it wasn’t a mistake, but a “happy accident.” By the end of the lesson, the same student was bragging to everyone about the “super huge” square that dominated the middle of his drawing.
Lafayette art:Local artist and former UL professor opens exhibit displaying 70 years of his work
Through her work with PACE, Richard has seen many students find their confidence in art, which can help them grow in other areas.
“I see kids in the program all the time where they’re not good at math or science or something like that, but they’re good at art,” Richard said. “It builds their confidence, and then they start to integrate these things in their heads, and it makes a big difference.”