Amanda Koonlaba teaches kindergarten students in Mississippi. This post is part of the series on art in school that appears on Anthony Cody’s blog “Living in Dialogue.”


Koonlaba writes:


I believe arts education is the antithesis of the corporate reform and privatization regime. I believe arts education is the best tool that schools have to reach all learners. I believe the arts belong in every school because they are important to our humanity. I believe all students deserve access to high-quality arts instruction. I also believe that the arts should be integrated with the traditional subjects of math, science, reading, etc.


You don’t have to take my word for it though. There is more than enough meritable research to back up my arts belief system. In fact, my school partners with the Whole Schools Initiative (WSI), which is a special project of the Mississippi Arts Commission (MAC). The MAC has conducted more than one research study that shows the significant role the arts play in closing achievement gaps and creating a school culture that is most conducive to meeting the needs of the whole child.


This partnership began three years ago. I was asked by my administrators to write a grant to the Mississippi Arts Commission to fund the start of this partnership and to serve as the coordinator of the program. I was thrilled to do this. I had previously taught at two Model Schools for arts integration (both public schools) as a third and first grade teacher. Now, as the visual art teacher at my current school, I was so proud to be able to bring such an amazing opportunity to my new students.


So, the teachers at my school began attending professional development workshops on the arts and how to integrate the arts into instruction. These weren’t the typical, mundane workshops that come to mind when you think about CCSS and data analysis. These were fun workshops where teachers were able to participate in artistic processes and learn how to use those to integrate their instruction. They were engaging and worthwhile. The same as what we want for the instruction of our students.


We put a very concentrated effort into using this new partnership to change the image of our school within our community. Over time, our school began getting positive press which had been lacking for many years. The staff led students and the community in painting murals, revamping outdoor spaces, and hosting events to get all stakeholders into our school. This speaks to the cultural change we are experiencing as a result of our efforts.


I certainly feel happier at my job than I ever have in eleven years of teaching. Yes, we still have to test and we still have data conversations. It is still stressful, but we are combatting that for ourselves and our students with the arts. On the days a teacher is able to integrate an art project into their instruction, both the teacher and students enjoy being at school….



Last year, a fourth grader asked me if I realized they had been doing art in their math class. I said, “Of course, I helped your teacher get those materials for you guys.” He was surprised. He said he hadn’t realized you could do art and math at the same time. He went on to say, “I needed that. I only get to come to your class once a week. I need art more than once a week. It helps me forget about all the bad things.” I know that student very well. I have been his visual art teacher for three years, and I know what he is referring to when he mentions “bad things.” I know what his home life is like, and I know he was being so sincere.