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We should be quick to pat on the backs of all those individuals in the Bay View community who fought the fight and showed their interest and genuine care for the future of Bay View High School.
Whether this is a message for the Milwaukee Public School Board (MPS), or to the future staff and families of the new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) school, please be sure to include all interested STEAM students in the future learning community–not a ‘dumping ground’ from the district’s Central Office.
Our arts schools in MPS have suffered enough. This is not a blog with a hidden political agenda. In my experience after 15 years in education, two school buildings stick out in my mind, which at one time represented the love of learning and the arts. Both of these MPS schools were broken down piece by piece, with each passing year. In terms of school culture, the layers of positive community were dissolved over time. Safety and the behavior of its students took front seat as the arts were pushed not only to the back of the bus, but completely off the bus as arts programs were not only cut, but in some cases eliminated. Arts teachers were replaced with security officers.
These two schools for certain have been dumping grounds for the district’s Central Office. Numerous students were placed in these learning environments who had absolutely no interest in the arts, as creative kids and their families all over the city were perhaps never really encouraged to consider these particular schools.
If you are interested in a gem, look into The Mission Hill School in Boston, which now has a series of recent video segments shot documentary style inviting others into Mission Hill’s unique world. As a community educator who spent a school year at Mission Hill, the following words pop into my head when thinking about Mission Hill: embrace, positive, family, discover, community of caring, nature, arts, democracy.
Mission Hill uses portfolios throughout the students’ entire time at the school. It is these portfolios that not only serve as an assessment, but they allow students to share their discoveries to not only staff and family, but community members as well. There is a deep and genuine reason to be engaged in what is happening both within and beyond the school walls. Portfolios fit nicely into artistic and project-based philosophies, at a time when standardized testing continues to rule many school’s yearlong schedules instead of these child-driven celebrations of learning.
A Year at Mission Hill video series can be found here:
To the argument “All children should have the arts, not just a few.” I couldn’t agree more. However, what is wrong with putting into place a system that addresses children who learn best through the arts? And why, like the future STEAM school, can’t we create more schools that address a particular way of learning such as technology, multiple intelligences, nature/environment, etc.? Let’s put more energy into processes that allow schools to bring out the best in each child, and at the same time, assuring that the school is a good fit for each young learner.
Dance and love,
Christina M. Ratatori, a.r.t. founder
We have been together since I was a a little girl. The memories and lessons have shaped who I am today. Like the time I was asked to show my dance recital piece to my kindergarten class by Mrs. Cook. Talk about a self-esteem booster when she gave me a Rockettes ring afterwards.
Or the time in elementary school when I was square dancing with Bobby Albinger at Open House in the school basement and fell off the handmade wooden old stage. After popping back up and finishing the dance, it was in that moment that I learned you keep going… no matter what. I finished with a smile and scrapes on my knees.
And then there are the days and nights and nights and days I would practice ballet, tap, and jazz in the basement. My dad carrying down a board for me to tap dance on was one of the best gifts ever! I don’t know if my parents’ ears thought so. No one was making me practice or forcing me to get downstairs to dance. It was just inside of me… a deep love, a passion, for the art of dance. That inner drive has forever carried me on my life journey.
Or the friendships I made when being in the chorus for Port Washington’s summer theatre of Grease. All that singing and dancing can be fun… as in your cheeks hurt from all the joy.
As a little girl who was adopted, it was the love of my family and friends and dance that gave me purpose. Getting lost in dance and music allowed me to direct my emotions in a positive way. It was the arts that allowed me to travel and perform in London and Paris, when the farthest my family vacationed was Wisconsin Dells.
Dear arts, I love you. I love you for how you have influenced my life, and how the art of dance gave my sometimes muddy paths such crystal clear direction. As an educator, I love what you have brought to my students. To the ones who never smiled, but did when they sang. To the ones who were never seen by students and teachers in a positive light, but then were glowing bright on a stage. To the ones with the poor attitude, who worked their hearts out to meet the challenge of a difficult dance sequence. Arts, I adore you for all that you are, for all that you have given me, and for the power and love you will give all of my future little artists as well.
a.r.t. tuesday tweet chat!
Starting January 8, Tuesday evenings will be the a.r.t. tweet chat. All classroom teachers, arts specialists, community arts educators, parents, and administrators are encouraged to join us. Let’s come together as a community by sharing fresh ideas and giving/gaining advice.
Just think, you can sit with your laptop & a cup of coffee or glass of wine (and even catch up on your DVR) while joining us. Whether newbie or veterans, please share this weekly tweet chat with your teacher friends and those interested in arts education. The more, the merrier. Please add the following to your smartphones:
Follow us @artsrallytogthr.
Have you ever heard of a tweet chat?
A tweet chat (or Twitter party) is basically a live chat on Twitter, based around a certain topic, or hashtag. It’s a really fun way to engage and interact with people of similar interests on Twitter, learn more about a particular topic & have some fun.
Join us each week, as we talk about various topics of interest to classroom teachers, arts educators, arts specialists, and all individuals interested in arts education. Share your thoughts, feelings, and knowledge, and connect with other arts ed. peeps on Twitter.
How To Join the a.r.t. Tuesday tweet chat…
1. Follow the host of the party, @artsrallytogthr to get the questions and topics for the chat.
2. Add the hashtag #rally4art to each of your tweets.
3. Reply to and re-tweet (RT) the tweets that you see with the #rally4art hashtag, and get ready for a wonderful time connecting with others on Twitter.
4. SPREAD THE WORD Please share this post on Facebook, Twitter and at your staff meetings.
5. That’s it. Easy as pie. Looking forward to chatting with you!
credit: created with input from Kiner Enterprises
As most educators, my TO DO list is quite long. So sometime, I admit, the thought of writing the monthly blog can hang heavily over my head. Not this month! I am eager to share with you what 2013 will bring for a.r.t. Please share away and feel free to post here and there and everywhere…
1. One2One Arts
We are thrilled to announce a new program of a.r.t.’s. The organizations in the Milwaukee area who offer arts educational programming in the schools is fantastic. We have supported these groups and will continue to in the future. However, they often address an entire grade level or classroom… what about the individual student who quietly shines? He/she may carry around a notebook of sketches, choreograph while listening to their iPods every night, or would give anything in the world to learn how to play the guitar. We would like to connect to those young artists in some way. Although we don’t have all the specifics yet, we do send out an invite to the entire a.r.t. community for any possible mentors out there. It doesn’t have to be a long-term commitment; even an afternoon mentoring would be appreciated. All genres of the arts will be included in this new community outreach program. And if you know of a young artist who would greatly benefit from One2One Arts, we would love to hear from you. (firstname.lastname@example.org / subject: O2OA)
2. 2013 a.r.t. benefit concert
Will there be one? You bet! This will be our fourth year, and we plan to hold the concert this time in the fall, rather than the spring. Stay tuned for details. (That reminds me, have you LIKED us on Facebook to receive updates?)
3. a.r.t. teacher rummage sale
Our new plan for the next sale is to collect all donations of art supplies, teacher materials, classroom items, etc. at the very end of the 2012/2013 school year. This is a crazy busy time of year for educators, so for those donating we will have drop off boxes at your school. Then, when school starts up again in the fall, you can stop by the teacher a.r.t. rummage sale and save $$$ instead of burning a hole in your budget at the learning shops. Proceeds will go towards providing more art for more youth.
4. SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS ONE…a.r.t. tuesday tweet chat!
January 8 will be the very first a.r.t. tuesday tweet chat. All classroom teachers, arts specialists, community arts educators, parents, and administrators are encouraged to join us. Let’s come together as a community by sharing fresh ideas, giving advice, and making those special connections that get rid of those awful feelings that you are going through the challenges alone. Just think, you can sit with your laptop & a cup of coffee or glass of wine (and even catch up on your DVR) while joining us. Whether newbie or veterans, please share this weekly tweet chat with your teacher friends and those interested in arts education. The more, the merrier. Please add the following to your smartphones:
a.r.t. tuesday tweet chat (starting Jan. 8)
Tuesday evenings 8:00 pm (Central)
Cheers to 2013! May you continue to celebrate the arts in both big and small ways with our youth. Bravo to you and all that you do!
Dance & love,
Christina M. Ratatori
art cred: local wisdom
After Friday’s horrific act of violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, I struggle to find the words. Without sounding cliche, I will find inspiration from Oprah who has for years turned to the following words for interviews and speeches of her own.
What I know.
I know my heart hurts as an educator, an aunt, and a godmother.
I know that as a new freshman starting high school, a boy I grew up with committed suicide with a gun. He was bullied.
I know many years later, as a teacher at the same small town school I grew up in, a student of mine committed suicide.
I know the look of sadness in my former students’ faces because they did not feel safe walking up and down a school stairwell.
I know the look of fear in a kindergartener’s face while walking down a school hallway as yells and screams and chairs being thrown against a wall came from behind the classroom door.
I know as a middle school teacher in the inner city, I witnessed a boy who grabbed a girl’s wrist as he took off his belt and proceeded to whip her.
I know that later, at the same middle school, a teacher was assaulted, had surgery, and had to leave teaching. She no longer felt safe.
I know the number of my tears these past few days are nothing compared to the sorrow of the entire Sandy Hook community.
Yes, Mr. President. You are correct. Are we doing enough? We are not. Our children are crying out in many ways, and we must change.
At this time, we must address the bullying, stop the teacher bashing, provide more arts and services in the schools, and put politics aside. Our children need us. May we wrap them in love… give them more… do more.
Dance and love,
Christina M. Ratatori, a.r.t.
I feel myself on edge these days, maybe even angry, when I read anything education-related. Whether it be from social media, an old school newspaper, or even the seldom (Why is that?) coverage on education in the political world, it brings on waves of frustration.
A recent New York Times opinion letter reminded me of the fact no one seems to want to address, yet the wheel continues to spin for standardized testing marathons in our schools. Let me get straight to the point. The man who invented multiple choice testing eventually called his assessment a ‘test of lower order thinking for the lower orders.’ (New York Times, October 14, 2012, Nikhi Goyal, NY)
It sickens me that I recently found myself in a computer lab with 5-year-olds helping with this required testing. And with computers that were not working and faulty headsets to boot, this is how we are spending our money to help children learn? Of course our schools are seeing children acting up and interrupting the learning process more and more. They are tested and tested and tested some more.
Yes. I have touched upon testing during an earlier blog, yet the tests are still a top priority in our schools. No assessment is what I am advocating for? Not at all, but there is a difference between testing (bubbles and pencils) and assessing what students know (for example, project-based learning.)
The right and left can argue and bring in as many talking heads as they want. Here is my 5-point plan.
1. Whether it is ARTS, athletics, or even chess, we need these in our schools. They must be a requirement.
2. We need positive, dedicated, fantastic educators in our schools. If teachers do not meet high expectations, they should not be in front of young minds. Our teachers need to be lifted up and supported, not beaten down.
3. Schools need a needle & thread model weaving school procedures, social skills programming, anti-bullying, etc. across all grade levels and subjects.
4. It takes a village. Scratch that. It takes an entire universe. Mentoring programs, community partnerships, volunteers from all walks of life… let’s not push these needs aside, but instead give them priority for planning and funding. And that universe must include a small number of students in each school building and every classroom.
5. There are many, many schools that are huge buildings of doom and gloom. Think of The Wiz’s transformation scene aka “Brand New Day.” We need positive, caring, inspirational environments for all of our children.
We cannot expect our youth to be excited to come to school when the day consists of all academics and marathon weeks of testing. Arts, team activities of all kinds, and even school-wide service-learning programs are important ingredients in addressing the whole child. Wouldn’t we rather have our students pushing Veterans in wheelchairs and giving art performances at a children’s hospital than putting their energies into cyber bullying and fights at lunchtime?
When are we going to stand up to the higher-ups and follow research which states students cannot be seen solely as fillers of test bubbles? Don’t we want our youth to be creative and good citizens, in addition to strong readers and mathematicians?
This war on teachers has to stop. I remember my grandma being so proud when she was able to tell others her granddaughter was a school teacher. Now, educators are beaten up on opinion pages and the comments written online about teachers are beyond disrespectful. Sometimes teachers have only a few minutes throughout the entire day to eat their lunch (while walking down the hallway) at mock speed and try to find time to use the bathroom during that window, too. And not to mention the hours and hours of planning time at home and on weekends… and yes, during their summers, too. (When they are not working their summer jobs.)
A list of 15 school-wide or classroom rules probably won’t cut it. Yet, a BE KIND. WORK HARD. (Mission Hill School, Boston) philosophy is easy to understand and remember for all ages. How disagreements are handled should not change each year a student begins a new grade/new teacher. These procedures should be put into place, practiced, and expected by all (even the secretaries, lunch chefs, and custodians).
The language used should be universal for the entire school’s culture. And buy-in from every single teacher is key.
Our larger schools are crushing our education system. Strong relationships in the school setting are being replaced with students being seen as a test score statistic. There is simply a greater chance for students to fall through the cracks when the class size is 30 to 40 (or more!) students.
You would think schools would be the most inspiring environments in the world, but many of our schools are filled with instructors who make them feel ‘less than,’ crush their self-esteem and spend more time catching them doing what is wrong than everything they are doing that is right. Are there educators who are shining beams of positivity? Absolutely.
Many hallways are not filled with art and music. Instead, some administrators strictly enforce silent hallways. Could we have singing and skipping ones instead? Let children be children. Please. Walking down silent hallways with hands behind their backs for a five-year-old? Really? The arts would, with time, change the landscape of a school’s culture. Can you imagine starting a school day with a student singing over the PA or a poem being read to the entire cafeteria during breakfast time?
I do not know all nor do I pretend to. However, after 15 years in the schools, including a very rare list of having experienced every kind of school at every grade level from the West Coast to the East Coast, as well as the Midwest. As those living on the coasts sometimes say, “Somewhere in the middle.” I have not only observed the most successful and broken schools, but I have been in the trenches of both.
Here is just one example of the way things are and the way things could be. The state of our classrooms today…teachers are expected to read a script, be on yadda yadda page on yadda yadda time on a particular day. No room for exploration, discovery. No time to connect to other learning. Drill and practice and direct instruction are key as arts integration is frowned upon. Students actually act up and get in trouble so they can be removed from the (sometimes boring) classroom. After the behavior is addressed, they are kicking and screaming because they do not want to return to class. Is this what we want for our children?
What if. What if a classroom used song lyrics to build literacy? Time and money for the arts? Absolutely. The Figureheads’ new CD, kings of positive hip-hop music for kids, would not only be listened to for the positive messages (anti-bullying addressed), but dissected to pluck out certain vocabulary words and parts of speech. “I don’t want to go back to class,” would be replaced with perhaps not acting up in the first place. Flocabulary is another fantastic arts-infused resource that brings excitement and a hunger for learning, as well as the EDGE Kennedy Center resources.
I have decided not to hold back this month and quite frankly put controversial comments into the cyber air. Feel free to comment below if you should agree… or not. The conversation is important to have. Education needs a revolution. This is not a drama queen statement by any means. If you believe it is over-the-top, then you haven’t set foot in a classroom recently… or at all. That is another topic for another blog on another day.
Dance and love,
Christina M. Ratatori, a.r.t. founding director
The new school year has begun. Fresh notebooks and never-been-used markers are welcoming and well… those little things just make an educator happy. Yet, the beginning of the school year always brings the doom & gloom of Third Friday in Milwaukee schools. A head count is taken every third Friday of the school year and with it brings teachers being cut (full-time positions are chopped to part-time) and sometimes even teachers are told they are no longer needed because numbers are down. Educators must walk away from the classrooms they spent weeks getting ready in the summer, but more importantly (and with great sadness) they are forced to say good-bye to the ‘family’ they began the year with.
Why do we accept this for our children in our schools? There has to be a better way. ”Students first.” ”The most important place is in the classroom.” Really? Those words mean absolutely nothing when it comes to looking at the recent actions of higher ups.
Arts-related classes are usually the first to go. It is often the art, drama, music, and dance programs that are changed or eliminated entirely. Yet, although all students deserve the arts in our schools, in urban settings, our youth desperately need these arts experiences. We cannot–must not–turn our backs on the poverty that exists in our communities. Poverty can create negative home environments and even homeless families. So much is taken away in these young people’s lives. Sometimes school is the only positive and consistent piece of their world, yet we shake it up all over the city.
So often, it is easy to quickly stand on the soapbox and bring up the argument of arts integration…using the arts to teach academics. (For example, using visual art to teach geometry or using drama as a tool to educate students about history.) Yet, we also need to remember the much needed lessons in the ‘art for arts sake’ side of the discussion.
Let me be clear by sharing this story with you…
An elementary classroom began a school year with numerous challenges. The community feel to the group was nonexistent due to numerous disruptive students and the academic levels were below grade level for numerous students in the class. Tempers often ran high and arguing was ongoing.
When the afternoon came around, it is time for drama. Drama activities allowed the students to learn and practice listening and speaking skills. They demonstrated taking turns, eye contact, and teamwork. Yelling was replaced with smiles and laughter. They walked into the ‘specials’ room with a certain negative energy filled with tension and later, walked out as artists. Even though it had only been a few weeks, the arts were transforming these students in positive ways. In addition, the student-teacher relationships had changed drastically, as well as the way the students treated one another. Trust was built, creative risks were taken, and stories were created and shared. How can students learn Common Core Standards if the spirit of a child is rattled to the core?
It was in the best interest of the students for the teacher to fight for this class to be ‘saved’ from the cuts. And she did; however, the Third Friday cuts affected other students in the school. There were other classes she could not save. Numbers were low for the school building and once Third Friday came around, her position was cut.
The arts are always the first to go. And when… and how…do we say, “Enough.” ?
Dance and love,
Christina M. Ratatori
August 2012 a.r.t. Blog:
a.r.t. sends condolences to the families and friends affected by the recent shooting in our nearby neighborhood of Oak Creek, Wisconsin. To the entire Sikh community, we send you thoughts and prayers.
We are not experts on psychology or hate crimes. We do not wish for this month’s blog to be a soapbox regarding gun control. But we can say with confidence that the arts help us teach our youth about other cultures.
National, statewide, and local politicians, school board members, and administrators must take a stance and provide arts opportunities for all youth in all of our educational environments.
Dance and love,
Christina M. Ratatori, a.r.t. founding director