Northwest Arkansas Teachers Share Creative Strategies With National Audiences

Suki Lin Highers, left, and John O'Berski facilitate a workshop for educators at the Literacy Unbound conference in New York City.
Hung Pham

Suki Lin Highers, left, and John O'Berski facilitate a workshop for educators at the Literacy Unbound conference in New York City.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — For the past four years, Northwest Arkansas teachers have taken part in a professional development program aimed at infusing art and creativity into subject curriculum. The impact of their work has been felt not only in local classrooms, but also across the country.

The ARTeacher Fellows Program, established by the Center for Children and Youth in the College of Education and Health Professions at the University of Arkansas, is an intensive professional learning opportunity focusing on arts integration — the practice of teaching classroom content in tandem with the arts.

Each year, the Center for Children and Youth selects 10 teachers from grades 8-12 to participate in the program. Fellows receive ongoing training from nationally recognized arts-in-education specialists. From photography and theater to music, the arts strategies become powerful tools for the teaching of subjects such as English, science and social studies.

As part of their second and third years in the program, veteran ARTeacher Fellows receive support to share their knowledge with regional and national audiences. In recent years, Fellows have been accepted to present at numerous educational events from Minneapolis to Washington, D.C., and all across Arkansas.

"ARTeacher Fellows have much to share not only to their students, but also colleagues, when it comes to teaching creatively, and effectively," said Hung Pham, director of the Center for Children and Youth.

Pham has accompanied multiple Fellows to the National Council of Teachers of English annual convention, one of the largest gathering of English and language arts teachers in the country.

"Having their voices contribute to the national conversation on education is one of the objectives of the program," he said.

ARTeacher Fellow Suki Lin Highers, a sociology teacher at Fayetteville High School, presented last spring at the Literacy Unbound conference, hosted by the Teachers College, Columbia University. She described the experience as transformative.

"Participating in Literacy Unbound was close to magic," said Highers. "To have so many teachers, students and performers all working together to effectively bring arts integration techniques to life was a dream come true."

Highers was joined in New York by John O'Berski, an English and drama teacher at Lincoln High School. He expressed appreciation for the opportunity to share and grow professionally.

"The ARTeacher Fellowship, and especially the Literacy Unbound conference, helped contextualize this work of enlivening learning and teaching," O'Berski said. "It was refreshing and inspiring to collaborate with local and distant colleagues in a broader movement to invigorate education."

Nathan Windel, a secondary science teacher from Deer School District, took part in the Journal of Language and Literacy Education Winter Conference at the University of Georgia in Athens. His hands-on presentation focused on using dance and movement to teach science concepts. Windel highlighted the benefit of connecting with educators sharing his passion.

"As one of just two teachers using (arts-integrated) strategies in my school, it is easy to feel isolated," Windel said. "However, there is clearly a strong community of educators across the country that understand the value of these strategies. … Without support from the ARTeacher Fellowship, my participation in this conference would probably not have been possible."

The Center for Children and Youth was founded by the College of Education and Health Professions in 2006 with an emphasis on helping children from disadvantaged backgrounds, stimulating creative learning through the arts, and developing pro-social behavior. For more information on the ARTeacher Fellowship and other initiatives, contact Pham at literacy@uark.edu.

Contacts

Heidi Wells, director of communications
College of Education and Health Professions
479-575-3138, heidisw@uark.edu

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