By Amalia P. Spagnolo
As an artistic medium, paint is used to express creativity and understanding of the world around us. It’s only fitting then that PAINT serves as the acronym for the Minnesota academic development program known as the Perpich Arts Integration Network of Teachers.
The Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley has awarded a PAINT grant to Nashwauk-Keewatin High School (NKHS). The teaching team that applied for the grant is comprised of Shelly Flaten (Alternative Learning Program, known as ALP), Troy Grunenwald (English Language Arts) and Linda Saumer (Visual Arts).
“They’re the superstars — I’m just on the side, making sure there’s support for them and the program,” said NKHS Principal Jeff Britten. “With their motivation and their work ethic, there’s just no question from the beginning that it’s going to be successful.”
The Perpich Center committee considered grant requests from schools in Northeastern Minnesota (Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake and Saint Louis counties). A three-year initiative, the Arts Integration Network award funds participating schools in covering expenses associated with the program. PAINT funding is courtesy of the Legacy Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, as approved by Minnesota voters and created by the Minnesota Legislature.
Fostering collaborative arts integration in Minnesota is PAINT’s mission. Through K-12 teacher professional development and funding, teaching teams build skills to plan and teach units of study. The objective is to integrate the arts with other subjects (e.g., social studies, math, English language arts and science).
“It’s been documented that kinesthetics like music, visual arts, dance and performance bring higher, deeper learning and understanding for the students, no matter what the subject matter is,” Saumer said.
PAINT teachers work together to plan, teach and assess integrated student-centered and standards-based lessons, using inquiry to expand thinking on arts integration and their own practices.
“The idea that you can network with teachers across the whole state really opens up some possibilities,” Grunenwald said. “I think all of our teachers are receptive to working together on something like this. As a teacher, ultimately you’re a lifetime learner yourself. Anytime you have an opportunity like this that comes up, it’s a chance to learn as well and to learn from each other.”
An integral part of its proposal and grant application was NKHS’ inclusion of the high school’s ALP student instruction and learning.
“For many students, a lot of hands-on experience is good for visual and tactile learners,” Flaten said. “If this program helps the student who may not learn in a traditional setting, then it’s been a successful endeavor. They (may) need things to be a little bit different because the standard writing and reading isn’t often a strong suit for them. A lot of our students — very bright, very capable — respond well to doing more tangible things.
“Every student learns differently, and every student has a different way of processing things.” Flaten added. “This program is a natural fit for someone who might learn a certain way to find something works better for them.”
For the visual art form that would work best for students of any level of artistic ability, Saumer will focus on photography.
“It will also work really well because most of them have a cell phone with a camera in it, and they already have it in their hands,” she said.
Grunenwald — as a teacher in a “traditional discipline”— considers the integration of arts and academics to be valuable for all students, regardless of the courses they take and their aptitude in certain areas.
“It’s a challenge for students who are good at something like math to be creative — to work in both areas at the same time and to challenge both sides of their brain,” he said. “Someone who thinks they’re not creative can find what they can do.
“It only enhances what the students are learning,” Grunenwald said. “There’s an increasing awareness in education that it’s important for teachers to work together and for students to be able to access multiple ways of presenting what they know.
“As a teacher, ultimately you’re a lifetime learner yourself,” he said, adding, “Anytime you have an opportunity like this that comes up, it’s a chance to learn as well and to learn from each other.”
Regarding the program’s value for teachers and students in relation to each other, Grunenwald said, “It enhances the idea of a learning community at this school, that we’re participating together as teachers to impact them. We’re all invested in what they’re doing, and for us to show that cooperation is very meaningful to the students.”
“As an art instructor, the questions I often have to answer from students are ‘Why am I doing this? What good will it do me?’ I’m trying to show them that creative problem-solving is involved — no matter what you do — and that it’s a skill that you can use in other places,” Saumer said. “Students will be making those connections. What we had in our application was that — being in a rural community — students don’t have a lot of exposure to the arts and visual arts (for) that art connection. This is just a real, wonderful opportunity to bring to show how it works in the real world outside of school, as a real-life application.”
PAINT teaching team workshops are scheduled for August. Voicing the enthusiasm of the NKHS teaching team, Flaten said, “It excites me, finding different ways of expressing and understanding a lesson or a story or a standard. I’m really looking forward to it and meeting other (educators).”