Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Interview

Stephen Gonzales
Stephen Gonzales is the district arts coordinator for Denver, Colorado, Public Schools. He has headed up the arts education area of the Denver Public Schools since 1991. Before that he was a music specialist, teaching in high schools and junior high schools. Steve studied music at the University of Colorado in Boulder, graduating with a degree in music education. He has a master’s degree in education from Lesley College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He actively participates on various community boards and committees that are related to arts education, and is a member of the Music Educators National Conference. Steve feels that “the arts are an integral part of the learning process for all children.”

Q. When did your district begin integrating the arts into the curriculum? Was this a gradual process, or did it come about all at once?

A. We integrated the arts with an infusion program four years ago. It only addressed the middle-school level.

Q. Can you describe some of the key ways you integrate the arts into the curriculum?

A. We take a team of arts specialists in the visual arts, dance, drama, and media, and we make them available to regular classroom teachers at the middle-school level. For example, we had a science teacher who wanted to do the periodic table of the elements and said that was a very difficult thing for kids to memorize. So our team went in there, and we had them divide the periodic table by groups of kids, who all helped make a quilt of the periodic table of the elements. By the time they were done, not only was it a beautiful piece of art — they took their time on each of the elements — but they then took the time to learn everyone else’s. By the time they hung up the quilt, they found that they all had memorized and were very well aware of all the elements on the chart.

Q. What do the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) state exams cover? Who is tested and when?

A. CSAP focuses on reading, writing, and math. Students at all grade levels are tested. When they first started last year, they tested specific grades. It becomes more inclusive as time goes on. It ends up including all the grades.

Q. You describe the four segments of arts education: arts education, arts in education, arts enhancement, and arts activities. How is each offered in your district? How do the four support each other?

A. If you have a certified arts teacher — and when I say arts, I’m talking about music, visual arts, dance, drama, or any of the arts — and they are delivering the DPS [Denver Public Schools] curriculum of their particular arts area tied to the DPS standards, that’s arts education. Arts education is assessable. Arts in education is when other subject areas use the arts as a conduit for learning. Arts enhancement is when we take kids to, say, the Colorado Symphony, the Denver Art Museum, or the Colorado Ballet. And then, surely in any classroom, whenever they trace around their hand to make a turkey, that’s an arts activity.

All four of those components are in play right now. You can offer one segment without the other. In a lot of cases, arts activities happen in schools where arts education is not there. The activity says the kids are doing something, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to learn anything. You can have a child draw a beautiful picture, and let’s say there’s a certain perspective in it. If the child can explain and discuss the perspective, he has experienced not only an arts activity, but also arts education. What we would like to have is a healthy portion of all four components so they do support each other.

Q. How do you build or maintain support for an arts curriculum with district leadership or parents?

A. The support is there. If you ask people whether they think the arts are important, the heads will go up and down in agreement. Ask them whether they value the arts, and the heads will go up and down.

But in terms of making it a priority for funding and getting it done, the heads don’t go up and down anymore. When a school district like ours, an inner-city district, faces a public judgement based on CSAP scores, the priority is going to be reading, writing, and math. All dollars and all kinds of things are going to go toward that. The arts are secondary to that.

You have to educate the different communities — communities of teachers, administrators, parents, and professional organizations — about the importance of the arts and how the arts are integral to success in those other academic areas. Once we can get people to understand that, then they understand that the arts represent a necessary component to getting to the CSAP scores.

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