A day in the life of a rock star

With the help of the Freddie Mac Foundation, Imagination Quest has set up an arts integration residency program at J.C. Nalle Elementary School in Southeast DC. 82% of the students qualify for the free lunch program at school, a clear indicator of the economic level of Nalle’s community. In a two year research study of arts residencies at J.C. Nalle, IQ set out to develop lessons for 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade classes. This year, IQ has taken on 3rd, 4th and 5th grades in their residencies. This week I had the chance to observe and participate in the second of seven installments of an IQ arts integration residency for 3rd grade, focusing on the book, Born to Be a Butterfly.

With limited experience in schools and communities like J.C. Nalle, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. I made my way over to the school, signed in at the security desk (which is something I never had in any of the multiple schools I attended growing up), and at 11am, met Jennie Lutz, an IQ teaching artist outside the 3rd grade classroom. She handed me a bright, yellow Imagination Quest shirt  for me to put on so that the kids would feel more comfortable having a new person in their class. The kids welcomed me with big, bright smiles, and Jennie got the lesson started with a warm up, reviewing the tools and job of an actor and the “juicy words” that the kids had picked out of the book last week. After getting our bodies, voices, minds and imaginations going, Jennie re-read the book, Born to Be a Butterfly, while the kids followed along in their books. Jennie led the class in breaking up the story into seven chunks and giving each chunk a descriptive title. Then came the class’ favorite part of the lesson: acting out the story! They eagerly volunteered to act out each of the seven parts of the story of the life cycle of caterpillars turning into butterflies.

At the risk of sounding cheesy, that’s exactly what these residencies are doing for these kids: turning them into butterflies. They learn so much in such a short amount of time because of the high level of engagement in the arts integrated lessons. It’s important that organizations like IQ continue to train teachers to use the arts in their classrooms. I strongly believe that this is a fundamental part of the solution to closing the achievement gap between students in high and low-income communities that plagues our country.

When the lesson was over, I handed Jennie the IQ shirt that I’d borrowed for the hour. As she put it in her bag, she said, “You put this shirt on and you become a rock star. These kids don’t even know you, but they see this shirt and they just want to talk to you, they want to be near you.” She was right. I was amazed at how many kids gave me a hug and said thank you to me after the lesson. These classes are important to them. They know they are learning. And this awareness, combined with higher levels of engagement, is a major stepping stone to these young kids taking ownership of their academic pursuits and being successful throughout their lives.

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