Arts education program boosts reading scores

SAN MARCOS: Arts education program boosts reading scores
.ByDEBORAH SULLIVAN BRENNAN dbrennan@nctimes.com | Posted: Thursday, February 9,2012 7:00 pm.

Thousands of North Countyschoolchildren showed an “astonishing” jump in test scores after their teachers used the arts in reading lessons, officials announced Thursday. In a pilot programinvolving 3,000 third- and fourth-graders, test scores improved at triple therate of similar students using the standard curricula. Those in the”DREAM” program learned reading through lessons involving theater,puppetry and painting —- and improved their reading scores by 87 points,education officials announced at a news conference.  “Art has thepower to inspire, inform, and obviously the results of DREAM show that art hasthe power to educate,” Cal State San Marcos President Karen Haynes said.
DREAM —- DevelopingReading Education through Arts Methods —- is a four-year program of the SanDiego County Office of Education, the North County Professional DevelopmentFederation and the Center ARTES of Cal State San Marcos.  Through the program,teachers participated in a weeklong arts integration training sessions and wereassigned to one of three groups. A control group did not employ arts in readinglessons. A second group added the arts lessons, while a third group did so within-class coaching by arts educators.
Kids in the controlgroup raised reading scores by 25 points, officials said. Those whose teacherstaught arts integration on their own brought up test scores by 42 points. Andthe group in which teachers received coaching increased reading scores by 87points.
Merryl Goldberg,chairwoman of the visual and performing arts department at the university, saidthe results show that arts education contributes to attainment of academicstandards, rather than distracting from them.
“We use arts insuch a way that it’s a tool,” she said. “It doesn’t take away fromthe curriculum at all. The arts teach creative thinking, innovative thinking,critical thinking. These are skills that are fundamental to what we need forthe 21 st century.”
Integrating movement,music and visual arts into reading lessons allows kids to employ more sensesand improve their comprehension of literature, said Laurie Stowell, a professorof literacy education at the university.  “Arts are simplyanother way we make sense of the world, and how we make meaning,” shesaid. “That’s what reading and writing is.” At the newsconference, fourth-graders from the Vista Academy of Visual and Performing Artsswayed to jazz music while displaying hand-lettered poster boards emblazonedwith single words.  Smooth,beautiful, peaceful, love,” proclaimed the signs for a smooth jazzselection.
“Explosive,blast, dynamite, grenade,” announced signs for a rhythm and blues piece.
Their teacher, HectorDeleon, said the multimedia lesson reinforced the meaning of vocabulary words,and improved reading comprehension.  “Instead ofhaving kids memorize stuff and spit it out, we’re having them take ownership ofthe word, and experiencing the words with music and movement,” he said.  His student, ArianaCastillo, 9, said the lessons erase her self-doubts about learning.  “It just makesme forget about all the voices in my head that say ‘You’re not good foranything,'” she said. “I just believe in myself.”
How have arts inclusion programs been utilized in your school district  to improve students’ in reading? other subject areas?

Frances McGarry: Featured Guest on Artistic Resilience

Be realistic. Be transparent. Be authentic.

I was featured as a guest on Artistic Resilience, a new online community that is designed specifically tounite different types of creative people. In this community artists,scientists, entrepreneurs, educators and more can share ideas and collaborateon new projects to improve the world as we know it. Artistic Resilience provides a platform that incorporates ideas, dialogue, connectivity and hard work.  The interview with Claudia Walters, the founder of Artistic Resilience follows:

Name: Frances McGarry.
Stage: East Coast.
Creative drug of choice:Theater, Theater Education, Acting, Singing.
Random fact:I have struggled my entire life with the correct spelling of myname:There is the masculine spellingFrancIs and the feminine spelling FrancEs.As a way to thwart the shame and embarrassment I felt tovalidate my identitywhen the incorrect usage wasmade I decided to address this and other issues that come with growing up in anItalianfamily of 10 (6 girls and 3boys) by creating a cabaret act Frances With An E.Now, what do you think about THAT?!!
Tell me something good:As of March 2011 my position as Education Director waseliminated from a not-for-profit arts organization due to budgetaryconstraints.My entire professional lifehas been devoted to promoting the arts on many different levels.For over 30 years I’ve worked as an education practitioner:first, as a classroom k-12 English and theater teacher, then asan adjunct professor, and finally as an education director for not-for-profitarts-in-education organizations.I’ve conducted a variety ofdrama workshops across the nation, and now unemployed for thefirst time in my life, I have found my new niche as arts activist:raising awareness of the vital inclusion of the arts in ourevery day lives through the launching of my new website.
Where can we witness your creativegenius:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Frances-McGarry-First-Online-with-Fran/297833316931497

aR: Define artistic resilience inyour own words.

FM: Artistic resilience means topersevere at creating a deeper, richer, compassionate world through the artsdespite the obstacles; artistic resilience requires re-inventing, re-imaginingour world through the gift of our innate ability to make art and seek solutionsto the ills of our society.
aR:When you’re feeling a little discouraged in your creative work, whattools do you employ to get yourself back on track?
FM:I make lists:Monthly goals; a one-year plan; 3-year; 5-year plan. This servestwo purposes:first, it forces me to focuson realistic goals and objectives and second, it offers opportunities for me toreflect on how far I’ve come since that last month. It’s also a great tool to“punt” during the course of the month and shift paths without feeling like I’mgoing in too many directions.
I have also learned a valuable lessonsince losing my job:surround myself with aninner circle of friends who are 100% FOR me.Not necessarily in an ingratiating way, but to selectively havethose persons who truly value my talent and believe in my potential andcanprovide insight and balancewhen I feel like a failure.
aR: Yes a support base is essential.You also perform right…? Do you wish to continue that as well as yourbusiness? Are one of these professions a bigger passion for you or moreimportant to you?
FM:I am an actor.I would always apologize and refute that declaration of truth,but after performing in an Off-Broadway production of The Vagina Monologueswith an amazing cast of talented women, I have accepted that this is somethingI’m good at and one that I will continue to pursue.It’s not necessarily a matter of importance; nevertheless, it’sa part of my genetic design and well, why not use it?
aR:You seem to be in love with storytelling. Can you name 2 of yourfavorite storytellers and tell me why you think their way of bringing a storyto the surface is so awesome? (Can be anyone. Singers, song-writers,playwrights, directors…)
FM: Mr. Fred Rogers. The best of allstorytellers for every age. E.B. White.I still weep at the end of Charlotte’sWeb. Any Irish playwright/citizen/actor. The ultimate spinner of tales,Shakespeare.
aR: A few of my favorites as well.So what do you ultimately hope to accomplish with your newwebsite?
FM: To raise national awareness ofThe Arts so that funding remains intact. To keep The Arts as a staple of achild’s education. To keep The Arts as a core mission of government as comparedto road repair. And to keep The Arts as a cultural investment because theNational Endowment of the arts conducted a federally funded research thatshowed $278 billion in economic activity was spun off by the arts in 2009.
aR: Wow!How do you plan to accomplish all of that?
FM: Phase One:Let’s Get Loud:Raise AWARENESS
The purpose of the first phase willbe to establish an audience by focusing first on The Arts and its critical rolein defining our humanity. First Online With Fran will serve to be the soundingboard to let the world know that, “We’re angry as hell and we’re not gonna takeit any more!”
Phase Two:Spread the Word:NETWORK
To prepare a list of guests, I amsetting up appointments with people who I feel are getting the job done. I aminterested in the work you are doing and would like to feature you and/or yourorganization on First Online With Fran. We can talk about goals and objectivesand the obstacles you confront either as an individual and/orby the organization. I am particularly interested in yourpersonal commentary and why you have chosen to pursue this cause.
Phase Three:Go Global:GO OPRAH!
Who better to get the job done, thanOprah?We need to convince her thatthe Arts need her support and know-how to thwart the decline of arts inclusion.Her new programming network:The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) will be the means to the end.Here’s how:
To redefine the shape of television,CEO Christine Norman summed up the programmingmix in simple words and phrases:“Aspiration. Nurturing. Newness.In short, Winfrey’s fans want to see their hero helping makepeople’s dreams come true in a new, always-on TV environment.” (The PostStandard January 1, 2011 page C3).
First Online With Franwill be the FIRST TV Talk Show that will bring sustainableNational attention to the vital inclusion of The Arts in people’s lives byinviting guests from all walks of life – the school custodian, Lincoln Center,struggling/successful actors, lemonade stands:ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things to make thearts the fabric of our existence. Let’s make The Arts FIRST ONLINE WITH FRAN.
Phase Four:Change:Alternative Solutions
By raising awareness of how the artsare important to our existence through First Online With Fran we can change theperception that The Arts are viewed as optional, an extra – fluff.No Arts? That’s like saying let’s cut the air for which webreathe.Through the program, FirstOnline With Francreative alternativesolutions that are being implemented can be offered to show how The Arts are avital component for educating the whole child.
aR: Well you definitely have it mappedout! You mentioned before that you thinkthe arts enhances the professional as well as the personal lives of others. Forinstance, having exposure to the arts can make a businessman a bettercommunicator, etc… When did you first come to this revelation?
FM:Personally, it transformed my life from a shy, insecure child toa protector of the ARTS UNIVERSE.Seriously, after writing an integrated arts curriculum for ahigh school program I began to get feedback from students after graduation.How Theater Troupe saved their lives; helped them to acceptidentity issues; helped them to be a better lawyer, architect, manager, etc.I have witnessed over the years how theater can provide lifeskills through hands-on learning.I’ll never forget a student, Lauren, who was the designatedproducer for a our first major drama production on the school auditorium stage.There were a lot of politics and problems she had to face inorder to get approval for the use of the space.I told her, “Welcome to the world of business. Figure out howyou’ll get past the red tape.”She returned a few days later with a dispenser of red tape.“Here it is,” she said.I laughed, not at her, but at my assumption that she understoodthe idiom.Priceless learningexperience both for her and for me. It was these kinds of challenges thatafforded each student to experience and allow each of them to take ownership oftheir learning firsthand.
aR: What’s the most important adviceyou can offer to another creative person trying to seek their own goals?
FM: Be realistic.Be transparent.Be authentic. Know your strengths, weaknesses, and enemies. Besurrounded with an inner circle of friends. Be vigilant.Be diligent. Be willing to turn your will over to your spiritualCreator, whoever and whatever that may be to guide you to your ultimatedestiny.
aR: Thanks for being so realistic,transparent and authentic in this interview.And best of luck to you in your new and exciting venture.I believe your goals for your business are relevant to us all.
FM: Thanks so much for this. Takecare.
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An Interview with Tricia McDermott

The Little Theater Who Could…
An Interview with Tricia McDermott.
Founder/Producing Artistic Director Airmid Theatre Company.

This following article recently appeared in the 2012 January/February Arts and Entertainment issue of GEM Magazine.

Despite arts advocacy groups’ efforts to prevent the decline of arts inclusion, the budgetary solution remains to be that the arts are perceived as an amenity. To challenge that notion, my blog First Online With Fran interviews ordinary people doing extraordinary things in The Arts to make our world a richer, deeper, better place to live. The Founder and Producing Artistic Director of the Airmid Theatre Company, Tricia McDermott shared her thoughts and vision for women in the theater and how the work at Airmid enriches our community.

Although Tricia was adamantabout NEVER starting her own theater company, the professional director/producer/consultant/educatorfelt compelled to promote classical works of women playwrights when theopportunity arose.  After the success ofthe Broadway revival of Ibsen’s A Doll’sHouse reaped Tony-Award winning accolades with Janet McTeer’s performance,McDermott found an original source called TrueWomen and wanted to present the play. When she was unable to find aproducer she pioneered the idea of a production company that would bespecifically devoted to classics by women. Founded in 2000, Airmid Theatre Company creates a safe home for womenartists, igniting broad public recognition of the essential contribution womenhave made to the worlds of theatre and dramatic literature.

One of Airmid’s missions isto establish the history of playwriting by women by professionally producingtheir work with actors of both genders, and to thereby broaden discussions ofwomen’s roles today.  Tricia shared ananecdote of a 60 year-old man who supported the theater and attended a readingof a piece called Making a Scene, acompilation of scenes of 16th to the 20th century womenplaywrights.  Although he consideredhimself to be a male feminist, and believed that he saw women as equals, “hedidn’t quite do that as much as he thought he should.”  In an email he told Tricia “He recognized thatseeing this same event told through the eyes and experience of a woman [made it]a different world.”

Airmid has an intern programwith college age students and works with some high school students in variousprograms.  A public reading of two playswritten by the German nun from the tenth century, Hrosvita of Gandersheim, wasattended by a high school English and Drama class from Babylon High School.Students were enlightened to learn through the reading that “all things of areligious nature are not strictly about religion.”

Tricia commented on thevalue of the arts, particularly the theater: “Theater lands in a very unique place. It makes people well-rounded.  Andno matter what time you start your child off, or even yourself, and getinvolved in theater, you get an opportunity to collaborate with people andcreate a team.”  As far as the new CommonCore Standards is implemented across the nation’s curriculums to prepare studentsfor college readiness Tricia felt that working in the theater fulfills thatgoal:  “You have to do it on a lot ofimagination and very little money.  Youhave to work within a budget.  You oftenhave to create something out of nothing. And you then have to market it and sell it to the world.  Theaters have an accounting office and oftena contracts department, a development department that writes grants.  We have every other aspect of business; itjust happens to be that the product is a piece of art.” 

This construct is to createjobs, to create an economic and tourist destination. Tricia explained howtheater is community based:  “The communityhas to be engaged.  It’s people speakingto each other, breathing each other’s air. It’s experiencing the same moment. For me, there is a great affinity to finding a spiritual life within thetheater whether it’s as a participant or as an audience member. But whetheryou’re participating in the actual creation or the experience of it, there’s acommunion that happens.  And you findyourself engaged with people in a way that you don’t in any other art form.”
Let us Know:  Airmidcontinues its search for performance space and is presently looking at sitesboth on the South and North shores of Long Island.  To learn more about Airmid and their programofferings go to www.airmidtheatre.org

If you’re an ordinary persondoing extraordinary things in the arts, then be sure to arrange an interviewwith First Online With Fran at www.francesmcgarry.com

Still Advocating for Arts

Still Advocating for Arts
by Lisa Mancuso.
Northport Observer.
December 12, 2011.

Dr. Frances McGarry taught English and theater in the Northport‑East Northport school district for more than 25 years and loved every minute of it. She loved helping her students discover their hidden talents, cultivate their creativity and instill in them a love of the arts.

During her long, successful career in the district, Dr. McGarry, 60, taught such courses as Playwriting and Literature Appreciation. She created theater programs for her junior high school students and eventually brought the programs to the high school: Theatreworks Troupe for 11th and 12th graders and Theatreworks for students in grades 9‑12.

“I was born and raised inNorthport, my son went to Northport schools and my husband, also a retiredNorthport teacher, was born and raised here,” said Dr. McGarry. “I had amazingteachers at Northport. They were truly my inspiration.” Dr. McGarry said shewas a shy girl, but an English teacher encouraged her to try acting and afterplaying a Holocaust survivor in a classroom improvisation and receivingapplause for her efforts, she was hooked. “I was always grateful to my teachersand always wanted to come back to Northport to teach,” she said.
But teaching wasn’t the 5’2”Northport native’s only focus. Along the way, she earned her doctorate ineducational theater at NYU, directed and acted in plays, did voice‑over workand taught as an adjunct and visiting professor in a number of collegesincluding NYU, Nassau Community College and Brooklyn College.
In 2005, Dr. McGarry decidedto retire. It was time to move on, she told herself. Although sad to leavebehind her students, Dr. McGarry was excited to begin a new chapter of herlife. She knew she wanted to remain active in the arts so she decided to pursuea career with not‑for‑profit arts organizations. She landed her dream ob as aneducation director but after four years, the position was eliminated due tobudget cuts.
Losing that positionconvinced Dr. McGarry even more that the arts in schools was in danger and isoften perceived as a luxury and not a necessity especially in these tougheconomic times. Never one to remain inactive for too long, Dr. McGarry decidedto fight back. She turned her energy and efforts to create a website whosemission is to advocate for the arts not only in the classroom, but in the homeand in the world.
After working on it for a fewmonths, Dr. McGarry launched her website, http://www.francesmcgarry.com and she isexcited for what she hopes to accomplish through her new venture. The site isfilled with information and resources pertaining to the arts and includes alink to Dr. McGarry’s latest project, her blog ‘First on Line with Fran’ whereshe asks people to “. . . join me in discussions on how ordinary people aredoing extraordinary things in The Arts to make our world a richer, deeper,better place to live.” Dr. McGarry is hopeful the blog may turn into atelevision talk show in the near future. She has also started ‘The First 100Stories Campaign’ on her website and here you can tell Dr. McGarry your ownstory about how the arts have impacted your life. (Check out the testimonialfrom one of Dr. McGarry’s former pupils, actress and Northport native EdieFalco.)
Although maintaining herwebsite is nearly a full‑time job, Dr. McGarry is also continuing to pursue heracting career and will soon begin a film project “Ava’s Short” in January. Sheis also currently appearing on stage in New York City this weekend in a production of At the Topof Our Lungs: An Uncensored Collection of Scenes, Songs & Monologues at theTriad Theater, 158 W. 72nd Street.For tickets to the upcoming show and more information, visit Dr. McGarry’swebsite.

Guest Lecturer at The City College of New York School of Education

This past Monday evening, Iwas a guest lecturer at the CCNY Program in Educational Theater Teaching Literacy Through Drama graduate course.  One of the assignments is The Diary Project; wherein, classmates creatediary entries from their childhood and adapt them as monologues and/or scenesculminating in a devised performance.

To get them started on thisproject, I selected a playwriting icebreaker exercise from Young Playwrights Inc.’s Write A Play Curriculum calledWhat’s In A Name? Each participant introducedthemselves by substituting their last name with a new one that reflected eitheran aspect of their personality of which they are particularly proud, orsomething they recently accomplished. For example, I became Fran Dream Reaper; others included SobhaSeedplanter, Marissa Laughter, Laura Lunacy, Joe Bridgemaker, EricSilkscreener, and so forth.  The groupselected Amy Jazzhands as the name they found to be the most evocative.  Delineating the difference between the REALAmy and the one that the group would create, the character evolved as aseven-year-old girl who wore red sequined tap shoes with bows, a neon greentutu with yellow suspenders, had bright red-curly pigtails that bounced whenshe walked.  She carried a journal in herdoggy bag pack and spoke with a froggy voice. She left her home in Staten Island to tell the group something that made thisday different than any other.  She said, “I am leaving home.”  Another response, “I have jazzy hands and Ineed your help.”  Another had her announce,“A crime has been committed and I’m here to solve it.”  Each participant was instructed to choose oneof the prompts and write a monologue clarifying Amy Jazzhands’ Need To Tell.  The renditions were read aloud and the groupdiscussed how the character communicated WHAT she needed to tell, WHO sheneeded to tell and WHY this day was different from all other days? Tofacilitate the lesson further, the class deconstructed the exercise:  the power of choices, how names tell ussomething about the character, how selections impact characterization,etc.  In addition, a discussion ensued onhow the exercise could be integrated into their professional praxis.  During the hands-on demonstration, I stepped outof role to note “teachable moments”; for example, how it applied to a COREstandard, literacy goals, classroom management strategy, etc.

The Paper Airplane exercise was used as an assessment tool:  every member “flew” their paper airplane andshared what they learned.  We exploredhow that same urgency for feedback can be applied to playwriting.  To learn more about how these exercises andothers are used as playwriting tools, the class was encouraged to attend Young Playwrights Inc.’s Teacher Training Institute.

To further assess theefficacy of the demonstration, participants were encouraged to imagine possibilities, integrate the lesson into theirprograms, and share their implementationthrough their testimonies on my website.  Ultimately, my goal was to INSPIRE them to take these new tools outinto the field as theater education practitioners and encourage them to putthem to use!

Thank you, Professor Sobha K. Paredes and theCCNY Program in Educational Theater!

How do you use playwriting as ateaching tool?