"Improvise, Innovate, and Imagine!" These were the creative goals that Linwood Holton Elementary School art teacher Sarah Fought set forth for this school year. With the support of fellow teachers, administrators, and a $6,200 grant from Partners in the Arts, her ideas sprung into action.

Award grants from Partners in the Arts, a program of the School of Professional & Continuing Studies, support cross-curricular projects that use the arts to enhance, or even change, the way core subjects such as history, math, and science are taught. The awards also allow schools to bring in visiting artists to train teachers and work with students.

At Linwood Holton Elementary School, Fought invited local artist Chris Milk Hulburt and the Richmond Indigenous Gourd Orchestra to create unique learning experiences for third- and fourth-grade students.

"Chris Milk Hulburt is a Richmond artist I had followed for several years," Fought said. "His work pulls you in and makes you start thinking about a story. By working with Chris, I think the students learned that art can be whatever they are feeling. Art can tell a real or imagined story about their lives."

Fought first encountered the Richmond Indigenous Gourd Orchestra while attending a workshop at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

"I am a musician and love improvised and handmade instruments, and I thought that bringing the Richmond Indigenous Gourd Orchestra into the classroom would be a really fun way to tie together learning about plants, science, music, and history," Fought said. 

Interdisciplinary teaching is the hallmark of any successful arts-integration initiative.

"From an arts-integration perspective, where classroom teachers, art and music teachers, and visiting artists are all working together to teach core curricular content, this was a model project," said Rob McAdams, Partners in the Arts program coordinator.

The project also benefited from the support of many parents and community members, including volunteers from the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, another program of the School of Professional & Continuing Studies.

"The University of Richmond has a strong commitment to the wider community and these cross-campus collaborations can lead to new ways for K-12 teachers to creatively integrate a range of subjects," said Dr. Elizabeth Sheehan, Partners in the Arts director.

During the course of the year, Linwood Holton Elementary teachers attended professional-development workshops with the visiting artists and gained new skills to use in their classrooms.

"We have a big learning garden at our school, and I knew that this would be a highly sustainable project, as we could grow our gourds on site in the years to come," Fought said.

The project concluded with a musical performance by third-grade students and the Richmond Indigenous Gourd Orchestra, an exhibition opening with paintings by fourth-grade students and Chris Milk Hulbert, and a reception.

"At the culminating event on March 20, hundreds of parents, faculty, students, and community members had the chance to hear the fourth-grade students play several songs together," Fought said. "Our exhibition gave the third-grade students the opportunity to experience and learn what it is like to share your work with the public, to communicate your ideas, and to see many parts come together to create a whole."

To gain inspiration for the project, several teachers from Linwood Holton Elementary School attended the Joan Oates Institute for Partners in the Arts in June of 2011.

"The Institute was a chance to learn from many other artists, musicians, teachers, and professionals in the field of arts integration," Fought said. 

This year, the Joan Oates Institute will run from June 25 through June 29 and give a new group of teachers the tools to successfully integrate the arts into all classrooms.

"I want to continue to have local talent invested in our schools. It opens eyes and minds and expands horizons," Fought said.

Image: Chris Milk Hulburt, Guitarito, 2012.