In late June, 71 teachers from Richmond-area schools gathered at the Modlin Center for the Arts at the University of Richmond to dance, make music, write poetry and create theatre. As participants in Partners in the Arts’ sixteenth annual Summer Institute, they were exposed to some of the best thinking about arts integration: Using the arts to teach all subjects.

Throughout the week, teachers learned first-hand how to bring the performing, visual and literary arts into the K-12 classroom. a valuable tool to today’s teacher. Research has shown that the arts enrich all aspects of education, reaching students with diverse learning styles and promoting interdisciplinary understanding and critical thinking, skills defined as essential to 21st century education.

“Using the arts to teach the curriculum is a win-win experience for both teachers and students,” reports Joan Oates, founder of Partners in the Arts, who remains closely involved with the program. Oates should know. Since the first Summer Institute was held in 1995, she has seen more than 1,100 educators leave the institute with renewed excitement about teaching and looking forward to integrating the arts in their classrooms.

During the Summer Institute, teachers work in small teams with colleagues from their schools to develop projects that incorporate the arts into the study of subjects as varied as biology, geometry, U.S. history and physical education. Summer Institute instructors, all of them specialists in arts integration and familiar with Virginia’s Standards of Learning, lead workshops that cover a range of topics and techniques.

“We learned movement activities to reach our kinetic learners,” says Richmond teacher Faithe Mickens. “We participated in a day-long Readers’ Theater workshop that demonstrated beautifully how to include everyone in the learning process through theater, delved into music and jazz as another modality for the learning process and, perhaps my favorite, learned from a fabulous storyteller who not only instructed us in the art of storytelling but entertained me so much that my sides hurt from laughing!”

Rosalind Flynn, a teaching artist for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, presented the Readers’ Theatre workshop. “Partners in the Arts teachers were terrific to work with!” say Flynn. “The scripts they created on quadrilaterals, civil rights, Virginia history, famous Americans and bodies of water were solid evidence of their creativity and their ability to bring the arts back to their classrooms and infuse them in meaningful ways into the curriculum topics they teach.”

Teachers earn three undergraduate or graduate credits from the School of Continuing Studies (SCS) for participating in the Summer Institute and completing a cross-curricular unit plan. Teachers working to earn graduate credit also write a paper addressing an aspect of arts integration relevant to their teaching specialties.

The Summer Institute is also an inspiring and affordable way for teachers to earn licensure renewal points. Partner school divisions’ professional development programs reimburse their teachers’ share of the tuition. Almost two-thirds of the tuition is paid through scholarships from SCS and Partners in the Arts. As a result, most participants have little or no out of pocket expense.

The Institute is also a great experience for teachers in training.

“The workshop facilitators, who are without doubt the tops in their fields, presented great ‘out of the box’ teaching techniques that will definitely foster higher levels of learning from my future students,” says Kathy Schuler, who is pursuing a Master of Liberal Arts degree with a focus on education at SCS. “I have grown personally by the level of profound sharing prompted through the engagement of learning activities throughout the program.”

Dr. Elizabeth Sheehan, director of Partners in the Arts, found this year’s group of teachers exceptionally motivated and creative. “Everyone’s energy stayed strong through the five days,” says Sheehan. “You could see great new ideas developing as teachers collaborated with their teams and with those from other schools.”

Spending time on the UR campus at the Modlin Center is another benefit of the Summer Institute experience. “We learned so much and made terrific friends at the same time. The University of Richmond certainly showed itself to be the ‘star’ among universities,” says Ginger Chalkley, who attended with her daughter Ginny Gill, both Chesterfield teachers. “What a great place to experience the arts first hand!”

Partners in the Arts is based on a consortium made up Richmond-area school districts, each of which provides support to the program. The Summer Institute is open to all public school teachers in the City of Richmond, Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico and Powhatan, as well as to K-12 teachers from a number of private schools.

Teachers in these districts are also eligible to apply for arts integration awards of up to $10,000 from Partners in the Arts. Both the Summer Institute and the awards serve the same goal: to empower teachers to bring the arts to all students, at every grade level and in every subject, and thereby enrich students’ understanding of their world and of their own potential.