First Online With Fran Featured in GEM Magazine

It’s March. Do You know How Strong Your Schools’ Arts Programs Are?

Secretary Duncan talks with students at one of the ED’s frequent Student Art Exhibit Openings at the Department’s headquarters.
The arts are an important part of a well-rounded education for all students. All of the arts – dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts – are essential to preparing our nation’s young people for a global economy fueled by innovation and creativity and for a social discourse that demands communication in images and sound as well as in text. 
The importance of arts education is celebrated each year during March through Dance in the Schools Month, Music in Our Schools Month, Theatre in Our Schools Month, and Youth Art Month. Throughout the country, student presentations in local communities will showcase how the arts infuse creativity and innovation into learning. The month also presents an opportunity to acknowledge the arts specialists who help students reach high standards in the arts, while also serving their school communities as “chief creative officers” who collaborate with classroom teachers to integrate the arts with other core subjects.  Read more

Born to Not Get Bullied

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
The New York Times

When she was in high school, Lady Gaga says, she was thrown into a trash can. The culprits were boys down the block, she told me in an interview on Wednesday in which she spoke – a bit reluctantly – about the repeated cruelty of peers during her teenage years. “I was called really horrible, profane names very loudly in front of huge crowds of people, and my schoolwork suffered at one point,” she said. “I didn’t want to go to class. And I was a straight-A student, so there was a certain point in my high school years where I just couldn’t even focus on class because I was so embarrassed all the time. I was so ashamed of who I was.” Searching for ways to ease the trauma of adolescence for other kids, Lady Gaga came to Harvard Universityon Wednesday for the formal unveiling of her Born This Way Foundation, meant to empower kids and nurture a more congenial environment in and out of schools.
Lady Gaga is on to something important here. Experts from scholars to Education Secretary Arne Duncan are calling for more focus on bullying not only because it is linked to high rates of teen suicide, but also because it is an impediment to education. A recent study from the University of Virginia suggests that when a school has a climate of bullying, it’s not just the targeted kids who suffer – the entire school lags academically. A British scholar found that children who simply witness bullying are more likely to skip school or abuse alcohol. American studies have found that children who are bullied are much more likely to contemplate suicide and to skip school.  The scars don’t go away, Lady Gaga says. “To this day,” she told me, “some of my closest friends say, ‘Gaga, you know, everything’s great. You’re a singer; your dreams have come true.’ But, still, when certain things are said to you over and over again as you’re growing up, it stays with you and you wonder if they’re true.”
Any self-doubt Lady Gaga harbors should have been erased by the huge throngs that greeted her at Harvard. “This might be one of the best days of my life,” she told the cheering crowd.  The event was an unusual partnership between Lady Gaga and Harvard University in trying to address teen cruelty. Oprah Winfrey showed up as well, along with Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services.  Kathleen McCartney, dean of the Graduate School of Education here at Harvard, said that she and her colleagues invited Lady Gaga because they had been searching for ways to address bullying as a neglected area of education – and as a human rights issue. As many as one-fifth of children feel bullied, she said, adding: “If you don’t feel safe as a child, you can’t learn.”
Lady Gaga describes her foundation as her “new love affair,” and said that, initially, she thought about focusing on a top-down crackdown on bullying. But, over time, she said, she decided instead to use her followers to start a bottom-up movement to try to make it cooler for young people to be nice.  I asked Lady Gaga if people won’t be cynical about an agenda so simple and straightforward as kindling kindness. Exceptionally articulate, she seemed for the first time at a loss for words. “That cynicism is exactly what we’re trying to change,” she finally said.  Bullying isn’t, of course, just physical violence. Lady Gaga’s mother, Cynthia Germanotta, who will serve as president of the Born This Way Foundation, says that one of the most hurtful episodes in her daughter’s childhood came when schoolmates organized a party and deliberately excluded Lady Gaga.  Lady Gaga was reluctant to talk too much about her own experiences as a teenager for fear that her foundation would seem to be solely about bullying. Her aim is a far broader movement to change the culture and create a more supportive and tolerant environment. “It’s more of a hippie approach,” she explained.
“The Born This Way Foundation is not restitution or revenge for my experiences,” Lady Gaga told me. “I want to make that clear. This is: I am now a woman, I have a voice in the universe, and I want to do everything I can to become an expert in social justice and hope I can make a difference and mobilize young people to change the world.”  Yes, that sounds grandiose and utopian, but I’m reluctant to bet against one of the world’s top pop stars and the person with the most Twitter followers in the world. In any case, she’s indisputably right about one point: Bullying and teenage cruelty are human rights abuses that need to be higher on our agenda.

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?

Remembering those Dog Days of Summer . . . or What I Did Over My Summer Vacation

They say that when one doorcloses, another opens.  Read about mypersonal predicament of joining the ranks of the unemployed in an articlepublished in the November 2011 issue of Incite/Insight. 

I hope it will provide alittle inspiration for anyone facing challenges in this [non-existent] jobmarket and that there is light at the end of the tunnel:

As an educator, summers were always a time to leisurely pursueprofessional enrichment, read junk novels, and capture the calm breezes of theseason. Not unlike T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock whose life was “measured in coffeespoons,” my teacher’s existence was structured into 42-minute segments, 5 daysa week, 10 months a year, carefully pacing myself to the next day off tore-boot my energy. This inner balance worked for me for over 30 years.When I left teaching behind to pursue other goals, it was challenging, yetthrilling. How would I monitor the next 30 years of my life?
Using the lyrics from the Spice Girls’“Wannabe” tune as a source of inspiration, I sought to reinvent myself witheach new endeavor with the query: So, tell me what you want, what you reallyreally want? With every new day, I wanted …
To be acollege professor!
To devise a newcurriculum!
To serve as aneducation director for arts organizations!
To presentworkshops at conferences!
To teachteachers!
To work withyoung people and promote their voices throughplaywriting!
As I successfully transitioned from onecreative pursuit to the next, I finally landed a job as an education director;no sooner did I begin to savor the challenges of this career phase when theposition was eliminated due to budget constraints in March of 2011. I shouldhave seen it coming; the handwriting was on the wall: continued budget cuts,declining arts funding, selectively competitive grant awards. Schools, thoughsupportive, were unable to allot monies and relinquish class time for artsprogramming. Despite acknowledging its merits, schoolsperceive such programs as “extras” and they easily become targeted to reduceexpenses with the rationale that donations from philanthropic patrons wouldreplace any losses. Sounds like a feasible compromise until you begin to thinkabout the long-term effects. I’ll come back to that dilemma, later. Stay withme.
So, here I was, at age 60, unemployedwith a Ph.D. and over 30 years teaching experience, with no prospects, or so itfelt at the time—after all, this was during the highest unemployment rate inour nation’s recent history. In this economic downturn, who would hire me atthis stage of my life? I sulked … for an entire week lapsing into a regimen ofeating Mallomars with a quart of milk. After glutting myself with such internal pleasures, I took astep back and asked: So tell me what you want, what you really really want?
Within the soul of every teacher lies adeep commitment to making our world a better place to live in by educating ourfuture citizens—those young minds whose imagination and talent shape the nextgeneration. It has always been my strong belief that the arts define ourhumanity, and that they are an empowering supernatural gift givento us in order to make our world a richer better place to live.

So. Now. What. Are. You. Going. To. Do?

It was time to put my [unemployment]money where my mouth was and take charge. Subverting all fears aside, “Whatmakes you think you can make a difference?” echoed in my psyche. I was remindedhow I used it as a mantra for all my students—why not for me?
After an acting stint in an Off-Broadwayproduction of The Vagina Monologues, I realized the only way to moveforward and effectively utilize my time and talent would be through thecreation of a professional website. Thus began an arduous two-month examinationof the scope and scale of my career arc. As a result of this self-reflection, Iwas able to define my next challenge: to authenticate the arts and alter its perception as an amenity. I started tocollect stories of artists “in the trenches,” so to speak, who were makingthings work and garnering amazing outcomes: 12-year-old Olivia Bouler of Islip,Long Island, who raised more than $175,000 for the Audubon Society; an Artspaceloft to energize Patchogue, Long Island; the Airmid Theatre Company working withNew York Assemblyman Steven Englebright to create a permanent theatre space on the sprawlingformer grounds of the Kings Park Psychiatric Center.
On a national scale, I was horrified andoutraged by a particular story related by Erika Nelson, an artist in Lucas, KS who makes miniature models ofgiant pieces of Americana, puts them in a van, and drives around the country toshow people. She called her mobile museum “The World’s Largest Collection ofthe World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things.” But this year,Kansas, which has one of the country’s smallest state artsbudgets, decided to shrink it even further, to zero, cutting off all ofNelson’s state support. This was just one story among many. While nationaladvocacy groups fight to keep the arts as a core mission of the government, therising sentiment is that it’s an optional staple of sustenance. Instead oftaking polite nibbles to offset this spiraling trend, I decided to bite back!
Since the launch of my website in lateAugust, I’ve initiated The First 100 Stories Campaign, entered blogs onsubjects ranging from literacy, CORE standards, and professional development,and proposed an education program for class field trips to the 9-11 memorial.Additionally, I conducted two interviews for First Online With Fran: atalk show solely dedicated to honoring ordinary people doing extraordinarythings in the arts to make our world a deeper, better place to live. Soundslofty, doesn’t it?

Alas, it’s the stuff that dreams are madeof.
And THAT is what I did over my summervacation.
More to come. Stay tuned.
Frances McGarry, Ph.D. has been teachingtheatre for more than 30 years. The Young Playwrights Festivalin New York City became the subject of her doctoral dissertationin the Program of Educational Theater at New York University. She haspresented Young Playwrights Inc.’s Write A Play! curriculum at local,regional, and national conferences. Her new website, http://www.francesmcgarry.com offers discussions on how practitionersare utilizing the arts to make our world a richer, deeper better place to live.