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STEAM Education: Frontier integrates art into curriculum

SOUTH DEERFIELD — While much of the recent push in education curriculum has been toward math, science and engineering, some schools continue to integrate arts and humanities into the classroom.

At Frontier Regional School, teachers have been meeting since last spring to learn new ways to support the arts and music in the curriculum.

“From an academic standpoint, research shows that students who are exposed to the arts are stronger academically and can make connections,” Director of Secondary Education Sarah Mitchell said. “It is important to expose students to those pieces of artwork that are important to society. It’s been hard with standardized testing and the pressure to squeeze out the arts, but we remain committed to maintaining art curriculum.”

The federal Department of Education has prioritized science, technology, engineering and math under STEM education initiatives to make American students more competitive in the global marketplace. And most standardized testing focuses on math, science and English language arts. The Common Core, for instance, only tests English and Math.

To bring back the importance of arts in the classroom, an advocacy effort has taken off from Providence, R.I., to school districts across the country.

The STEM to STEAM initiative, championed by the Rhode Island School of Design, is meant to incorporate art and design into curriculum. A coalition of educators, artists and scientists is working to place fine, language and musical arts at the center of STEM. The movement is gaining traction with a group of congressional leaders forming a bipartisan congressional STEAM Caucus last year.

The Frontier district has partnered with 10 local museums to help supplement the classroom curriculum with art.

Last spring, 10 teachers from the district attended a workshop with museum directors from Historic Deerfield, the Natural History Museum at Amherst College and others to discuss how to incorporate the arts.

Later in June, the teachers held a K-12 meeting to focused on how the district can fully embrace arts in the regular program, Mitchell said.

As students head back to school on Thursday, some will experience new projects emphasizing arts. For instance, the senior seminar, a course focused on deeper research, will integrate art this year.

This November, Frontier Regional School will have its first humanities day to celebrate visual arts, music and theater.

“We’ve always had a strong art program. We’re very committed to the arts,” Mitchell said.

Frontier Regional School offers students in grades 7 to 12 a chorus, band, visual arts programs and classes focused on different media, such as clay, painting and sculpture.

In the Union 38 schools, students take art each year. The middle school students take an art elective for one semester each year. High school students are required to take one art class to graduate.

The Deerfield Elementary School and Frontier Regional School offer a full-day arts celebration in the spring.

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