Day 16: Today’s the Day

Today’s the day we interview the first round of artists.  I am excited to meet these individuals, as their experience and interests are so diverse.  Half of the challenge, I believe, will not only be to fill the positions with qualified individuals; but, rather, to fill each specific position gracefully… Factoring in the strengths and weaknesses of our Projects teachers as well as the subject matter each class is scheduled to address. 

For example…  It seems logical to me to hire an architect or an urban designer for our second grade classes, since they will be exploring the concepts of maps, communities, homes and shelters around the world.  Likewise, as many educators have come to know, kindergarteners are developmentally in a “listening” phase.  They relate well to music, specifically if it is put to action.  In this way knowledge retention can be built into creative instruction in the forms of music or dance. 

Another challenge is to fill the positions with individuals who can bridge the language gap.   At the moment, our Projects classes are being taught immersively in the Spanish language.  This works well for our Spanish-speaking students, but does not work in our favor for the non-Spanish speakers.  Eventually I am confident that all students will come to comprehend the content being taught in Spanish, but we as a school cannot risk the disengagement of the 20% on non-Spanish speakers in the classroom so early on in programming.  Therefore, I seek artists who use gesture, eye contact, and physical activity as instructive tools.  The body has its own language, and it has the power to unify otherwise dissimilar spoken languages

We have posted the job on two very popular websites, idealist.org and the Colorado Nonprofit Association.  I am confident that doing so has expanded our reach exponentially.  Over the years the Harmony Project has cultivated a pool of quality artists, but we have quickly learned that our needs at DCISF (bilingual being one key component) are hard to fill given the demographic of artists previously employed by the organization.  The tides are turning, however, and it is clear to me that soon we will have a rich and diverse group of qualified artists whom I can rotate in the classrooms. 

On another note – and I will keep it brief – I cannot express how beautiful it has been to hear students call themselves “trilingual”.  If in fact our words shape our realities, as I have come to believe, then these little munchkins are off to a pretty spectacular start.  I have come to enjoy my laborious lunch duty, when I see a beautiful little African American kid come up to me and say “Buenos Dias, Senora Cone”!  Likewise, I nearly fell over with joy when an Hispanic kid greeting me with a “Neehoow”.  (That’s hello in Chinese spelled phonetically.)  So this is why we do what we do.  Plain and simple.  And I can’t wait for the students to add another language to their repertoire – ART. 

Good things are amongst us.  Bring it on.

Until next time – Adios!

TC

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Day 9: Can I Get a “Whoot Whoot”?

I am so excited I might just explode!

So for the past week my nose has been buried in a computer trying to clarify the vision and purpose of my Integrated Global Arts (IGA) program for funders and grantors and administrators and colleagues and…  Yesterday I sat with a colleague from the Harmony Project and fished though papers and numbers and contracts and agreements, just trying to set a budget for the coming year.  The good news is that the leg-work on my grant proposal is done.  Now I need to tweak things and shape things and input things into systems beyond my control.  And then I need to sit back and cross my fingers that all the work and effort will be clear as crystal on the receiving end of my submission.  Basically I am coming to the end of my work on this particular grant application, and I am moving closer and closer to the fun stuff – the creating and the hiring.  🙂

(But that is not even why I am so excited!)

You see, starting an international school in this particular area of town definitely comes with its unique challenges.  First of all, not everyone is excited about their kid learning Chinese, let’s say; or even Spanish for that matter.  Change is difficult for everyone.  So in response to the concerns we have heard from many parents over the past week, the school’s leadership has decided it a good idea to start hosting informational meetings for parents on a weekly basis.  These meetings are designed to inform parents about why this kind of curriculum is so important in today’s day and age.  (I just learned that between Spanish, English and Chinese, our students will be able to communicate with 90% of the world’s population!) The meetings are also intended to inform our parents of our parent education program, which offers parents a free route to obtaining their GED, a college degree and/or English language acquisition.  These meetings also serve as a method of recruiting family and community support, volunteers. 

(Here is where I start glowing…)

So today I was introduced at the meeting and our Principal, Maria Elena Thomas, noted that I will soon be in need of volunteers to assist with our IGA program.  Initially I just need a few parents to serve on our “Steering Committee”.  This committee is designed to keep me and my colleagues on track.  Presently I have representatives from the school district committed to participate.  I have teachers on board.  I have Harmony Project Board members ready to advise in the direction I will lead.  The only piece of the puzzle that has been missing is the community involvement component.  Well, I can say that this problem is no longer a problem.   

After the meeting I was swarmed with parents wanting to get involved!  Some of them are artists themselves; others just want their child to explore and discover their own creative talents.  I’m sure many of them get it that art is, in its own way, a universal language.  But one thing is for sure…  All of these parents seem to agree that art is an essential component to a quality education. 

So now I get to figure out what to do with them all.  🙂  A few will participate on our Steering Committee, others will likely help with the “Demonstrations of Learning” I plan to implement at the completion of each Projects unit.  Maybe some can even be hired to co-teach in the classroom. And then there is the fact that the week of September 12th is National Art Education Week.  What to do?  What to do?  The possibilities are just buzzing through my head at the moment and it is making me giddy.

One thing is for sure…  I feel joyful in knowing that I have the support of not only the administrators that hired me, but also of the community I came here to serve.  I left the meeting with tears in my eyes and a skip in my step.  I feel blessed having just been given the opportunity to give, guide and learn from the people I work with and for. 

Until the next time…  Adios.

~TC

The First Day of School

Today families of all kinds arrived on campus.  Some children were smiling as they rolled up in their new DCIS uniforms, others looked like they had to be pushed out of the house by a bulldozer.  Of course there were crying fits.  A few children in kindergarten and many more in preschool struggled to understand why their parents left them behind in such unfamiliar territory.  But beyond the tears and the snot and the red faces, I felt comforted knowing that the teacher they were assigned to, their homeroom teacher, speaks their native tongue.  How unfortunate it seems to me that in other schools children who speak only Spanish are pushed into classes taught only in English.  I know that even these little crying people will someday appreciate the smoother transition…

So the first half of the morning I was on damage control.  I made myself available to console anyone who looked like they needed it.  My favorite quote of the morning so far was said through the sobs of a 4-year-old.  She said, “I miss my dog Pebbles!”.  It took some time to reassure her, but eventually I convinced her that just like my dog, Chubby, Pebbles would be there when she returned home to love and hug and kiss and snuggle.  Pebbles, just like her Mother and Father, was not leaving her behind.

Now I need to shift gears.  My first goal for the year is to apply for, and receive, a grant from Colorado Creative Industries.  http://coloradocreativeindustries.org/  This organization aims to “promote, support and expand the creative industries to drive Colorado’s economy, grow jobs and enhance our quality of life.”  And they do this in many different ways; one of which is to provide financial support to public schools trying something new with art instruction. 

The challenge for me lies not only in meeting the deadline (August 25th) but also in the fact that while the concept of Integrated Global Arts is new, the whole school is new.  The new beginning provides me with a great opportunity to create something fresh and innovative, but I have a lot of questions to answer before someone cuts us the check.  So with that in mind, and before I report to lunch duty…  I’m off to illustrate through language what I hope our children will demonstrate through action – that art can be a powerful tool to further and strengthen academic achievement.

Until next time…

TC

What is this all about anyway?

The Denver Center for International Studies (DCIS) has been in existence in one form or another for 25 years.  As a member of the International Studies Schools Network and Asia Society Network, DCIS prepares students for college by developing multilingual, interculturally competent citizens who are actively involved in our rapidly changing world.

This year Denver Public Schools (DPS) has taken the necessary measures (and risks) to replace schools that consistently under-perform with schools that have a record for success.  This means that DCIS is slated for replication beginning Fall 2011.  On August 10th DCIS will open two new schools  in the Montebello region, Denver’s most under-served area of town.  DCIS at Montbello will serve students in grades 8-12, and we at DCIS at Ford will serve the elementary students living in the same neighborhood.

Our  elementary school will be the third in the nation participating in the International Studies Schools Network.  We will be teaching all classes in Spanish and English interchangeably, and we are also developing a strong Chinese language program to compliment the demands of our global community.  Further, Maria Elena Thomas (the school’s principle), has committed to developing an integrated arts program that will focus specifically on strengthening student interest and performance in both Social Studies and Science.  This new program, titled “Projects”, will use art as a tool to further academic learning and exploration.

The Integrated Global Arts Program is the first of its kind and will be designed and implemented by me, Tamera Cone – it is my brain child.  And I am thrilled and honored to announce that DCIS at Ford will be partnering with an organization called The Harmony Project.  This non-profit provides schools of need with Community Artists living in Denver.  We at DCIS are the first school to bring The Harmony Project on board from day one. 

So what does this all mean anyway??? 

It means that a bunch of educators from Colorado, New York, Aruba, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Spain, China and beyond will converge to provide a world-class education to some of the kids in the U.S. who need it the most. 

It means that we will make mistakes.

It means that we will have successes! 

It means that together we will learn what “Globally Competent” and “College Ready” actually LOOK like at the tender are of 6, 7 8, etc.

It means that I will soon come to know a little African-American kid who can speak Spanish, and a little Hispanic kid who can speak Chinese.

It means that we have a lot of work to do.

Join me here and follow the journey of one innovative school in Denver trying something new.

-TC