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Students in South Jordan Elementaries Benefit from Arts Grants

Jan 04, 2016 12:27PM ● Published by Julie Slama

By Julie Slama

South Jordan - South Jordan Elementary first-grader Zoe Session likes painting.

“I like using purple since it’s my favorite color,” Zoe said. “I like painting rainbows, too.”

Zoe and all South Jordan Elementary students are getting to paint and create art projects in several mediums this year, thanks to the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program grant that is helping fund an art specialist in their school.

At South Jordan Elementary, there has been a drama specialist and a dance specialist come part-time in recent years with the grant, but this year, it has worked out that the school would fund 20 percent of the full-time specialist’s salary while the grant picked up the rest, Principal Ken Westwood said.

“We prioritized to have a full-time visual arts specialist in our school this year,” Westwood said about hiring Ali Owen this past summer. “I asked the SCC (school community council) and PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) and they said, ‘we’ll do whatever we have to do to support having her in our school.’ It’s such a great opportunity that I can’t pass it up to have kids work with a dedicated and passionate art teacher every week.”

The Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program is a teaching partnership between highly qualified arts specialists and classroom teachers in more than 100 Utah elementary schools. Working with the classroom specialist, the arts specialist will give students arts instruction that ties into the state’s fine arts core curriculum, said Mary Ann Erdmann, Jordan School District’s fine arts and physical education consultant.

At South Jordan Elementary, Owen works with teachers to understand their core curriculum and “make it come alive through visual arts.”

For example, first-graders learned which primary colors mix to create new ones; they painted a flock of birds. Recently, fourth-graders were learning to incorporate emotions in their writing so they created paper-mache masks. Fifth-graders were learning about what makes them unique and created self-portraits. Sixth-grade students were studying geometrical shapes so they traced leaves in watercolors to better understand their formations, and others created a landform of Utah with salt dough formations to make the Colorado Plateau and the Great Basin.

Owen, a former first-grade teacher who works with each class for about 45 minutes once per week, said teachers appreciate her understanding of the classroom’s needs while working with students to understand the curriculum.

“The students’ eyes just light up. They love coming here to do art and I try to make it a positive and upbeat experience. They can’t say ‘can’t,’ but need to try and see what awesome things they can create,” she said.

Erdmann said the one-year renewable Sorenson grant program not only brings music, visual arts, dance and theatre back into the classroom, but it also integrates it with language arts, math, social studies and science so it will reinforce the classroom core and provide students with a deeper level of understanding in grade-level core content that will enrich the learning experience.

In addition to South Jordan Elementary, Eastlake Elementary has a full-time arts specialist, Jacquelin Webster, and Daybreak Elementary has a full-time dance specialist, Stefani Mortensen. Elk Meadows has a part-time dance specialist, Marlene Kay, and Welby Elementary has Chelsea Lindsay teaching music daily for three-quarters of the year.

“All the teachers have a degree in their art form or are a teacher and are in the process of getting an endorsement,” Erdmann said. “We teach by ‘muscle memory,’ because students tend to better learn and remember because they’re physically doing it.”

For example, Erdmann said she has seen fifth-grade classes learn the states and capitols through song and other classes calculate math problems by tapping in rhythm on empty ice cream buckets, while at the same time, creating their own percussion group.

“Many people don’t understand the benefits of arts and how it’s bringing back the fun in teaching and students are more engaged while they’re learning. This grant program is a wonderful opportunity. We’re just thrilled — and the principals, teachers and students are, too,” she said.  

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