Arts programs at Dartmouth schools develop skills, teach life lessons

Jan 9, 2018

At all grade levels throughout Dartmouth schools, budding artists are developing their skills and learning a thing or two at the same time.

Speaking at the January 8 School Committee meeting, PreK-12 Arts Coordinator Judy Cronin highlighted the district’s visual arts program, which encompasses every grade level from pre-kindergarten to the 12th grade.

It’s also a program that has grown substantially in just a short amount of time. In 2009, the district’s arts show was moved from the high school library to the gymnasium, and has since grown into one of the largest events art students host throughout the district. In recent years, staff at all grade levels worked together to strengthen programming and learn from each other.

At the elementary school level, Cronin explained teachers focus on skill building and giving students an outlet for creative expression. Art classes integrate elements of the English language arts curriculum, like vocabulary and writing.

“It’s more about kids expressing what they’re feeling and pulling in those skills at the same time,” Cronin said.

Teachers at each school are taking art instruction to new levels, from Potter Elementary School teachers’ featured artist mural on school walls, to Dartmouth Middle School teacher Beth Arguin’s emphasis on problem solving and personalized instruction.

Instruction at elementary and middle school levels culumluates as students enter high school. Dartmouth High has 26 classes within its unified arts program, from photography to 3D design and painting.

“The teachers in this department come in and they’re psyched to see their students and they love what they do,” Cronin said. “That passioh is important especially at the high school level because it’s a lot of influence for kids’ next steps in college.”

Teachers at all levels are increasingly using peer critiques and self-assessments in classrooms, challenging students to both reflect on their own artwork and that of their peers.

“It’s looking at a classmates work and critiquing it,” Cronin said. “When you can teach something that means you really understand. That’s what we strive to do and there’s a lot of collaboration that goes on.”

Art students have chances to explore their passions outside of the classroom too, Cronin explained. Dartmouth High School has established partnership with artists’ studios, museums, and universities. Students intern and produce artwork at the New Bedford Art Museum, compete in an all-state art competition, showcase works at juried shows, and partner with the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

“It’s real life learning opportunities,” Cronin said.

Students are also getting out in the community and using art to tell stories. Cronin highlighted high schoolers’ recent trip to Martha’s Vineyard to film a documentary on the Native Americans in preparation for the Plymouth 400 celebration as one such endeavor.