Saturday, April 25, 2015

Artist in Residence and the Definition of Enrichment

In my job as the enrichment teacher, I am constantly wondering how my time can best support the enrichment of students at RES.  Each of our students is a unique learner and their needs and their definition of what is enriching varies (and changes over the course of their time at school).  I spend a lot of time looking for ways to differentiate my instruction through the offering of choices as well as student driven projects that provide students with the voice to help me decide what can enrich their learning experiences.  As well as this work, I am always on the lookout for things that might just be enriching for everyone.  An opportunity that will be a first for the whole class (at the moment I am introducing students to green screen technology and how we can edit ourselves into any landscape with a simple app!) or sometimes for the entire school (the Cougar Cub Inventor's Workshop in November is an example of this work).

A year ago I began exploring the idea of an Artist in Residence as a whole school opportunity for enrichment.  I liked the idea of trying to connect this residency model to the performing arts and culture.  After having many one on one discussions with students about what they want to learn, and how they want to learn I have found that studying other countries and the performing arts are recurring themes.  I also received support to look at these ideas from all of the unified arts teachers at RES, as they jumped on board to suggest connections to their curriculums in physical movement (PE), art, library, music and Spanish. Our discussion as educators focused on what a true enriching opportunity it is for students to learn directly from caring, knowledgeable adults in our community that bring unique experiences and backgrounds to their art form.

With this great support I embarked on a journey to bring Jeh Kulu to Richmond!  We received a generous grant from the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.  Their support allowed us to book Jeh Kulu and begin planning for three days of cultural and performing arts connections for all students in grades K-4.  In the fall RES families supported this effort through participation in the RES Fun Run.  That money combined with a donation from POMG Bike Tours of Vermont funded our three day residency. 

I also found great support from the Flynn Education Department.  We were able to connect our residency to an all school field trip to the Flynn theater to watch the performance of the African Children's Choir AND the Flynn worked with us to provide eleven grant funded companion workshops that developed deep connections to the performance. Grants were generously provided by the Champlain Investment Partners.  

The residency combined with Flynn companion workshops and the all school field trip was a unique and excellent experience for our students.  Jeh Kulu, means community, and as we danced, learned about drumming and participated in a new art form I felt our community grow stronger.  As students and staff we developed connections with each other through shared performances and learning. As a school we developed connections with another culture and with community members that showed their investment in our personal growth.  As an educator I was thrilled to witness students participate in all of these activities with energy and enthusiasm.  I saw students get to showcase talents that sometimes are not part of our regular school day, like dancing.  I also listened to students thinking deeply about what it means to be from a different culture.  AND everyone learned something new!

I often get asked what it means to be an enrichment teacher (check the blog links from my blog home page for a description of the RES Enrichment Program).  Enriching experiences should be joyful and unique--and I will continue to strive to provide these opportunities to our students.  Do you have an idea for an enriching experience for RES students?  I would love to hear it!

Many staff at RES have blogged about their experience during the residency. Here are a few of my favorite moments:

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