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"Art Rocks the School"

Madeline Taylor looked at the group of students preparing to pirouette across the gym floor. Pointing to one boy, she remarked how he gets in trouble nearly every day. But on A.R.T.S.  Day, not one child requires discipline, not one child ever asks to go to the nurse, complaining of a stomachache or other school-phobic related illness.  And the halls are quiet.

A.R.T.S Day or "Art Rocks The School" invites guest artists into school for the morning where they share their talents with the students; engaging about 450 third, fourth, and fifth graders. The Brainstorm, created by Taylor, a 12-year Pine Crest veteran who teaches English As a Second Language (ESOL), celebrated its 4th year at Pine Crest Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland this week.

Taylor, an artist herself, makes jewelry from bottle caps, creates books using collage materials, and dabbles in numerous other art projects. She teaches her non- English speaking students using the arts.  She's passionate about the role of arts in all education. "Just like kids need to have good nutrition on a daily basis, they need to have a daily serving of the arts," she said.

Inspired by "The Big Draw," a community art celebration originated in the United Kingdom and spreading throughout US cities, Taylor wanted to expose students to artists and mediums they are not usually exposed to in school. Furthermore, as school budgets continue to reduce art teaching budgets; Pine Crest has two part-time teachers: one three days a week, another one half day; the students have less time in art class.

"Research shows that the arts improve academic performance, develop critical thinking, creative problem solving, communication, teamwork, and more," she said, noting how her own students become more self-confident speaking English when engaged in an art project than if they're just trying to read or do grammar worksheets.

It took Taylor two years to convince her principal to sponsor A.R.T.S Day. "It was a hard sell. At first, I was told it had nothing to do with teaching ESOL."  With the support of the art teachers, and then the other building staff, who began calling it "Madeline's idea" and conceived ways to connect the project with the school's long-term planning goals, tie it into state and national education standards, and even test preparation, Taylor's dream became a reality.

She attends art shows and galleries, scans the newspapers and websites, seeking  between 25-30 artists who agree to volunteer their time for the morning, each seeing three groups of about 15 to 20 students.  Artists, representing studio and performing arts, come from the Virginia-Maryland- District of Columbia community and many have returned every year. Artists include jewelry makers, printers, photographers, paper sculptors, dancers, drummers, actors, fiber workers, potters, florists, and more.

Every student is randomly assigned to visit three artists. The grades are mixed together and students don't know who they'll see until they arrive at school the morning of A.R.T.S. Day.  "I want them to be surprised, and open to trying something new," Taylor said, adding how many of the boys at first complain about ballet and then spend the entire day talking about the positions and how weight lifting and football complement ballet.

While many of the artists bring their own materials and donate supplies, some ask Taylor to obtain what they need or want reimbursement. Taylor applied for a grant the first year and subsequently received funding from the school's PTA and donations from many parents. The principal initiated the sale of school logo car magnets, designating the proceeds for A.R.T.S Day, which costs about $600 a year.

Students write thank you notes to the visiting artists and to Taylor, where they express what A.R.T.S.  Day means to them:

"Everything you draw has meaning to someone." - Walee, 5th grade

"I learned that in art nobody can tell you  'you did it wrong or your art's no good, because your art looks the way you want it to look.'" - Daniel, 4th grade

"I learned that in art you can always have your style." Jason, 4th grade

"Everyone has different ideas about what art is and that's ok." Charlie, 4th grade

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