Creative approach gets GR school off state priority list Teresa Weakley. November 07, 2017.

Coit Arts Academy in Grand Rapids is a magnet school for the arts, so school leaders thought it was only natural to use the students’ passion to improve their knowledge.

Four years after being named a priority school by the state, Coit Arts Academy is now off the list. The principal credits the school’s unique approach to education.

“Using math, social studies, science, music, dance, theater to promote all of that, so it’s really a whole child perspective that we’re doing here,” Dr. Jason McGhee said.

In 2013, David Dublis was brought on as the creative arts specialist. He explained he oversees collaboration between the art, dance and music teachers with the core academic teachers every week.

“They discuss what units they’re talking about and discuss how they can integrate their specific area of expertise into that unit,” he said.

For example, in the dance class, the teacher created a science unit specifically dealing with sound waves. He used a drum to create the “call” and the students then created movement as the “response.”

It works in art class, as well, where Dublis says a recent project was linked to social studies. The students created stenciled manuscripts to look like stained glass windows, using their initials or something else to tell the story of who they are.

“She (the art teacher) had met with Ms. Jones, our fourth-grade teacher, and they were talking about moments in history where there was not a lot of literacy among the prevailing people. In the 1400s, they had to develop these stained glass windows to tell the story of what was going on in the church,” Dublis said.

The project helped students put themselves in the place of people in the 1400s and understand how they had to learn and read stories.

Studies have long shown a connection between music and literacy, and the school has used that to its advantage. Reading and math were two specific areas where the school needed to improve to get off the state priority list and its creative approach proved successful.

Now, school leaders are focused on taking learning to the next level. Coit Arts Academy is a third-year candidate for the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program. The next step will be the authorization process.

The principal says the approach to improving scores worked seamlessly with becoming an IB-authorized school.

“International Baccalaureate says, ‘All right, they need to be more inquisitive. How do you promote inquiry within your school?’ There’s a learner profile that we have where we want students to be knowledgeable, principled and risk takers. We looked at all the things IB asked of us, all the things that make an art school an art school and all the things that the district says we have to do as a district and put them together,” McGhee said.

There are still five Grand Rapids schools on the priority list, but Grand Rapids Public Schools Communications Director John Helmholdt believes those will also come off the list soon.

“Coit Creative Arts Academy is a perfect example of a vibrant school that did everything they needed to do for student achievement and to get off that priority school list. We’ve had more than 50 percent of those original 13 schools that are now off that list. We have five schools that are on it that are trending upward. We anticipate in the next couple years, we’re going to see those schools come off, too,” Helmholdt said.

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