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The City Journals

Arts integration paints clear picture of success

Jun 21, 2017 04:43PM ● By Jet Burnham

Students perform their curriculum-based opera entitled “March to Delicate Arch.” (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
Kelleen Leslie masterfully incorporates art experiences into her daily lessons, providing her students with a fourth-grade curriculum that is always exciting and new.

“Arts integration gives students a deeper understanding of the core and teaches my students how to be creative thinkers and problem solvers,” said Leslie. “It makes school fun again.”

Leslie, who teaches at Blackridge Elementary, was one of this year’s recipients of the Beverly Taylor Sorensen Legacy Award, presented to educators who “embrace the arts with excellence in their practice.”

The Beverly Taylor Sorensen Foundation believes:

 “The study of drama, dance, music and the visual arts helps students explore realities, relationships and ideas that cannot be expressed simply in words or numbers.”

Leslie feels the arts are a vital part of a complete education.

“I am a firm believer that we need to educate the whole child,” she said.

Leslie uses a variety of methods to incorporate the arts in her lessons. She uses visual art to enrich learning. She said when students are challenged to study a painting, they start to notice things that they didn't even realize were there.

“The students' observation skills skyrocket,” said Leslie. “They become more observant in other areas, and they notice the details more thoroughly.”

The activity strengthens the observation skills needed for following the scientific method. “When they can learn to see the details in a painting, they can see the details in a science experiment,” she said.

 By discussing what is happening in a painting, students practice inferring, which Leslie said is a reading strategy most fourth-graders struggle with.

Leslie assigns her students to visually explore their science units through mind-mapping. She also teaches basic drawing techniques that students use to draw realistic plants and animals when they study Utah ecosystems.

Each day, Leslie begins with a brain dance to prepare the students to learn. Dance and movement is often used to reinforce concepts.

We dance rock cycle, weather, water cycle, geometry and multiplication,” said Leslie. “When they can stop being embarrassed and let themselves be engulfed in the movement and music, it is a beautiful thing to see. I see their confidence grow.”

Shauna Estes, whose son Matthew is in Leslie’s class, said the movement helps her son stay focused.

“It’s been really good for my son because he’s an active kid and just sitting still for long periods of time is hard for him,” she said.

Jen Pjeter said Leslie’s teaching methods have resonated with her daughter, Olivia.
“Mrs. Leslie has entirely changed Olivia's experience with math and restored her confidence,” said Pjeter.

Olivia enjoyed the rhythm and drumming they used to practice their times tables.
“It helped me memorize, and I had fun while we were doing it,” said Olivia. “I've never really liked math until this year.”

Leslie’s students use drama exercises to perform puppet shows, storytelling and readers’ theaters. They also pantomime their spelling and vocabulary words to aid with retention

Camee Montgomery is another parent whose child has thrived in the arts-focused class. Her son Ty said he’s had the best year ever.

“I know that is because of Mrs. Leslie,” said Montgomery. “She is so deserving of the award she won and deserves so many more in my book.”

The year full of fine arts experiences culminated with a class opera. With support from Opera By Children and the school’s music specialist, Josh Roberts, students wrote the libretto (words) and music for the Utah history- themed opera. Students designed, built and painted scenery. They also choreographed the dances and fashioned their own costumes.

“Mrs. Leslie incorporates her love of the arts into all aspects of her teaching and got even my soccer, football and basketball-loving son to be incredibly excited and proud of being in an opera,” said Montgomery. “She encourages and pushes them to do better and be the best they can be.”

Leslie strives to instill confidence in her students to prepare them to meet new challenges.
“My greatest joy comes from seeing my students experience new things and do hard things that they did not think they could do,” said Leslie. 

With the award, Leslie received $2,500, with an additional $2,500 awarded to the school’s arts programs.