Partners in the Arts announces 2019-2020 Engaging Creative Thinkers awards

September 24, 2019

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 2019-20 school year.

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

The 2019-20 ECT awards provide support at three levels: EmergingSustaining and Leading. Two of this year’s award schools have been granted Emerging awards, three schools are Sustaining and one school is Leading.

The ECT awards provide a package of resources which together create a foundation for school-wide and sustainable arts integration. The package includes free tuition for up to four teachers from each school to attend PIA’s Joan Oates Institute, held annually at the University of Richmond in the summer. The institute is available for both professional development and graduate credit and is open to PreK-12 educators of all grades and content areas. Additionally, award schools receive up to $5,000 to implement, sustain and lead their projects by bringing in visiting artists and specialists and purchasing project-related materials. Other resources included in the award are advanced training in arts integration and professional development workshops for all of the school’s teachers, as well as assessment tools specific to each individual project.

Partners in the Arts is a membership consortium, founded in 1994. It is made up of Richmond’s arts and cultural community, and all educators in the City of Richmond, as well as Henrico, Hanover, Powhatan, Goochland, and Chesterfield County Public Schools, and several independent schools. For more information about PIA, the Joan Oates Institute, and Engaging Creative Thinkers Awards, visit

The following schools have received awards from Partners in the Arts for 2019-2020.

Emerging Awards

Holman Middle School, Henrico County Public Schools

Project Title: Sensory Spark Park!

Holman students, including exceptional education, will re-vamp an existing outdoor space. Students will learn about and care for plants through teachers and community partners. Students will create manipulatives including a garden care backpack. Students will create clay models, illustrated journals, and perform figurative monologues. Plants that students grow will be shared with the community. The project will finish with a gallery to display work created including a scale map.

Robious Elementary School, Chesterfield Public Schools

Project Title: All Jazzed Up

This community history project allows students to become “historians” in their own city. Fourth grade students will have a guided tour of Jackson Ward, the Harlem of the South. Students will learn how the buildings of Richmond have impacted the history of the city from a local architect. Students will learn about music with partners in the community. Students will learn how tell their story through photography. An artist in residence will give a talk on historically influenced art.

Sustaining Awards

Flat Rock Elementary, Powhatan County Public Schools

Project Title: Heroes Wear Masks

Luchadors and luchadoras [wrestlers] were the great storytellers of their communities, often recounting current and historic events with their performance art. Using a sketchbook as a tool, fourth grade students will complete an in-depth study of the writing process, using professional wrestling as a model to tell stories about their community. The students will work with wrestlers, professionals/historians in the wrestling field, oral storytellers and local historians. Taking the lead from these experts, the students will bring their characters and their stories to life in various ways, including mask making, oral storytelling, and digital animation.

J.B. Watkins Elementary School, Chesterfield County Public Schools

Project Title: Whose Ecosystem Is It, Anyway?

This is a Project Based Learning (PBL) science integrated unit in which students will explore food chains, adaptations, and ecosystems through theater and visual arts. Students will use sketchbooks to explore various types of ecosystems and organisms and document their learning. Students will also act out components of these ecosystems. Students will then collaborate to create a project reflective of their new learning. The award will also support collaboration with teaching artist and a local naturalist.

Open High School, Richmond Public Schools

Project Title: Massive Resilience: Interpreting Richmond

This restorative justice project combines content areas of History, American Literature, and Theatre Art. Students will explore the Richmond Slave Trail and racial conflict in America through drumming, dance, drama, and digital storytelling. Students will learn about the transatlantic slave trade in conjunction with local history, connecting with local artists and curators. At the end of the unit, students will learn how to express their new knowledge and understanding through digital storytelling in order to personally engage and reflect upon their experiences.

Leading Award

Ruby Carver Elementary School, Henrico County Public Schools

Project Title: The Sketchbook Initiative

This project aims to sustain the success of Ruby Carver’s 2016-2017 project Maker’s Space: Exploring Creativity and 2018-2019’s Engaging Creativity and Curiosity. The award sustains the schoolwide use of sketchbooks as a creative tool to brainstorm, observe, take notes, and write reflections, providing a method for unique and creative exploration for each student. Students continue to use the Maker’s Space in the school library, made possible by this project. In this space, students can use different media to explore, invent, and create through the arts in order to understand academic principles and share their findings with their fellow students.