Advocacy Articles

October 29, 2014 - 10:30am PDT

A Boost for Creativity in the Classroom: Project Imagine

PORTLAND, Maine — The U.S. Department of Education has awarded $1.9 million in grant money to Youth in Action: Side x Side, a local arts organization that will team with the University of Southern Maine for a collaborative effort called “Project Imagine.”

The university is teaming with Youth in Action: Side x Side to develop arts programs to be integrated into the curricula at four Portland elementary schools — the Reiche, Ocean Avenue, Riverton and East End schools.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, suggested in a statement Wednesday the new approach will attempt to fold the arts into more traditional school subjects, such as math and science, as opposed to treating art classes as separate parts of the school day.

“With all the pressures our classrooms are under to meet different standards, it’s important that we don’t forget about the importance of creativity in the learning process,” she said. “With the help of this grant, this partnership between Side x Side and the University of [Southern] Maine will help develop new ways to integrate the arts seamlessly into the school day. I think it will help our students not only become more creative, but also improve their learning across several subjects.”

According to a USM announcement, the partner grant recipients will use local artists and experts to help provide professional development for teachers at the schools and support implementing the arts education programs in the classrooms.

“Whenever our educators and our community members collaborate to support our students’ creative and academic growth, we all benefit,” said David Galin, Portland Public Schools chief academic officer in a statement. “Portland Public Schools’ students and staff will continue to develop a more creative Portland.”

The grant award — which was hailed by independent U.S. Sen. Angus King and Maine Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, Wednesday — was one of only 18 given out by the department to a field of 105 U.S. applicants for the federal arts education program money.

Side x Side was established last year by Oak Street Studios founder Beth Wilbur Van Mierlo and Reiche Community School parent Annette Kraus. Starting with Reiche, the organization sought local artists, architects, authors, marine biologists and other professionals to work with students on hands-on projects tying classroom subjects to real-world problems and artwork.

With the grant money, which starts with a $360,946 allocation for the first year of a four-year program, that approach will be further developed and expanded to reach 1,700 students and 80 teachers in Portland schools.

“This is fantastic news for everyone who is working to improve educational outcomes for students in Portland,” said Portland Mayor Michael Brennan in a statement. “The arts, while conveying essential content and skills, are extraordinary vehicles for learning and fostering creativity across all disciplines — world languages, social studies, science, math and more.”

--Bangor Daily News