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Arts in Education: Seeing the Future Through a New Lens 

If you step into the classroom with Arts in Education Teaching Artist Carla Long, you’ll likely catch her instructing students on how to take a good photo. Look a little deeper, though, and you’ll see that she’s equipping her students with important life skills and lessons.

Last academic year, Carla spent about 20 days with 5th and 6th grade students at the Edgar Fahs STEAM Academy, working with them to explore their personal stories through photography. Students learned some of the finer points of taking photos, like how to snap a good portrait and edit their images.

Building these skills was a part of a broader goal related to self-exploration. Carla used photography as a way to invite students to think deeply about their futures. She asked students to pick a single object to represent a career interest and complete a week-long photographic study of the item. Can we use a student quote here about the object they brought/what they want to be? When asked as part of her reflective process why she chose a stethoscope, one student shared with her peers that she has hopes of becoming a cardiologist in the future. To her, the stethoscope at the center of her photographic study symbolized a vision far beyond the object itself. It was a window into a future that asked her to dream big things for herself.

Woven into this project-based exploration were important opportunities for building life skills. Carla introduced students to the creative process, whereby one identifies a creative idea, makes a plan for bringing the art to life, creates the art, and then shares the art with an audience. This process is often followed by artistic critique, and students were also invited to provide constructive, creative feedback on their peers’ projects. Both of these concepts are important for students’ success in their future education and life outside of school.

Carla practices a high-impact teaching style called arts integration, or the technique of incorporating artistic practices into academic curriculum. Arts integration has a long record of proven benefits for student success – something Carla and the faculty at Edgar Fahs see every day. 

Through the collaborative programmatic and funding efforts of the PA Council on the Arts Arts in Education partnership, Penn State York, the City School District of York, and other generous donors, the Cultural Alliance is able to make this high impact teaching technique a reality for students at Edgar Fahs and across York County.

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Rita Whitney

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