Partners in the Arts announces 2016-2017 Engaging Creative Thinkers awards

November 18, 2016

Partners in the Arts (PIA), a program of the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies, is pleased to announce that six schools in the Greater Richmond area have received Engaging Creative Thinkers (ECT) awards from PIA to carry out innovative arts integration projects in the 2016-17 school year. 

PIA provides training to preK-12 educators in the theory and methods of creative, experiential learning through arts integration. Arts integration uses the basics of all forms of art to teach all grades and subjects. Teaching through the arts has been shown to improve long-term retention of content, increase engagement in learning, social-emotional learning, and cultivate creative and critical thinking skills. PIA ECT Award projects are developed by teachers in each school and are specific to the curricular focus and needs of the school’s student population.

The awards provide a package of resources, which together create a foundation for school-wide and sustainable arts integration beyond the funded year. The package includes free tuition for up to four teachers from each school to attend PIA’s Joan Oates Institute, held at the University of Richmond during the last week of June each year. The institute is open to preK-12 educators of all grades and content areas and is available as a 3 credit-hour graduate education course or as a non-credit course that offers training in arts integration. Award schools also receive up to $5,000 to implement abd sustain their projects by bringing in visiting experts, artists, and specialists, and purchasing project-related materials. Other resources included in the award are advanced training for the project team in arts integration, professional development workshops in these skills for all of the school’s teachers, and assessment tools that are specific to each project and school.

The ECT Awards for the 2016-17 school year represent a new model of project support at three levels — Emerging, Sustaining, or Leading — based on previous arts integrated projects in the school. Three of this year’s ECT Awards are first-time Emerging Award projects and three have received inaugural Sustaining Awards as they are building on expanding integrated teaching in their schools.

All preK-12 educators attending the Joan Oates Institute receive a substantial tuition discount as members of the PIA Consortium, made up of Richmond City and Henrico, Hanover, Powhatan, Goochland and Chesterfield County Public Schools, as well as several independent schools. More information about the Joan Oates Institute, PIA Engaging Creative Thinkers Awards, and Partners in the Arts, can be found at

The following schools have received awards from Partners in the Arts for 2016-2017.

Emerging Awards

Goochland Middle School, Goochland County Public Schools

Project Title: Thomas Jefferson: VA’s First Innovator

This multi-year, learner-directed project will strengthen civics, English, and science skills through research, application, and the arts by exploring Thomas Jefferson’s early life in Goochland County.  In the first phase of this project, civics and English students will work together to conduct research on Jefferson through project-based learning. These findings will be presented to 7th and 8th grade students who will then use creativity and individuality to construct a portrait of Jefferson based on their own perspectives.  The second phase will connect science, agriculture, and art as students landscape and build a school garden.

Liberty Middle School, Hanover County Public Schools

Project Title: SWAG (Self-Expression through Writing and Art Graffiti Journals) 2.0

This award will help cultivate and grow the SWAG project at Liberty Middle School, which encourages students to have more voice and choice in their writing.  The journals are a platform through which students reflect upon the creative writing process and use basic art techniques to create visually appealing representations of their writing. The PIA award will allow SWAG to incorporate digital writing and visual imagery into the process, partner with local libraries and galleries to provide an arena for students to share the process with others, and invite guest artists/authors to help students through the writing process.

Ruby Carver Elementary School, Henrico County Public Schools

Project Title: Maker’s Space: Exploring Creativity

This project is a collaboration between the art teacher, librarian, and STEM coordinator with a goal of establishing Maker Space modeled creative centers in the library where students will have opportunities to collaborate, create, make decisions, fail, grow, self-motivate, and self-assess.  Students will learn how to utilize research tools to generate information they need for projects, practice choice concerning their materials and construction process, and foster independence in their decision-making. The engaging environment will allow students to use art forms to understand academic principles and foster curiosity.

Sustaining Awards

Binford Middle School, Richmond Public Schools

Project Title: Our Binford Community

This award supports and builds on the Richmond Public Schools’ 2015-16 initiative of transitioning Binford Middle into an arts integration school. The goal is for every teacher to receive advanced training in using the arts to teach all subjects and in collaboratively teaching across content areas. The PIA Award will be used to help build teacher competency in arts integration theory and teaching techniques and in cross-curricular project development. The award will also support the adoption and implementation of a whole-school language that teachers and students can use across subjects that is based on shared creative thinking strategies.

Clover Hill High School, Chesterfield County Public Schools

Project Title: American Studies Humanities Project

This project sustains and expands last year’s work that integrated history, English, photography, culinary arts, and gardening to engage 11th graders who were at risk of not graduating on time. Clover Hill High School will use the PIA award to grow the “American Studies Humanities Project” and expand the “Honors Philosophical and Cultural Studies” which provide more opportunities for culminating Project Based Learning activities.  This will engage at-risk learners through experiences that activate their interests, skills, and attention and create an authentic learning experience.

Linwood Holton Elementary School, Richmond Public Schools

Project Title: Sounds of Birds Study

This project builds on the 2014-2015 project Rocking Electrical Light Show Experiment where fifth graders learned how to use force, motion, and energy in electricity, sound, and light as technical aspects of theatre. The new Sustaining project builds on the big idea of exploring the science of sound and incorporating biology and string instruments. The goal is to increase the diversity of engagement that students have with the outdoor environment. Elementary age students will be able to identify birds in our region, and learn how birds produce sound. Students will explore how this relates to the production of sound through using their own voices and how to recreate birdcalls through string instruments.