Artists enhance lessons in classes
CARENCRO — A program that places professional artists in Lafayette Parish elementary classrooms returned last week after enough funding was secured to keep it going.
The program — Primary Academic Creative Experiences — is a partnership between the Acadiana Center for the Arts and the Lafayette Parish school system that was created 14 years ago. It places professional artists in elementary school classrooms to work with students on art lessons tied to what they’re learning in math, English language arts, science and social studies.
“The service to the youth of our community will continue unchanged for this year,” said Gerd Wuestemann, executive director of the Acadiana Center for the Arts.
The program was funded by federal Title 1 grants, but due to a reduction in the school system’s grant funding, more money was needed for it to continue.
Recently, the Acadiana Center for the Arts received a $60,000 grant from the Lafayette Public Trust Financing Authority and a corporate sponsor has committed $40,000, Wuestemann said.
The school system is providing $100,000 for the program from its arts and music account, but that is a one-time contribution and a permanent funding source needs to be found, said Paget Guidry, school district arts and music supervisor.
Meanwhile, the center and school district are working to find new sources of funding to ensure the program continues.
Supporters wanted the program to continue this year because of the risk of losing the artists trained for it, Wuestemann said. Over the years, the arts center and district have worked to develop partnerships with the Kennedy Center and other arts organizations to provide training and opportunities to enrich the program as well as arts education in schools, he said.
“If the network is destroyed, if PACE did not happen, people move on and take other jobs. It was imperative that we save the program,” Wuestemann said.
Guidry said it’s the school district’s goal to continue PACE next year at all elementary schools.
“We don’t want the program to disappear,” Guidry said.
While Title 1 grants — money available to schools with high percentages of students living in poverty — helped fund the program over the past 14 years, it also limited the program to only Title 1 schools. One silver lining from the loss of the Title 1 funding — PACE was expanded to all elementary schools, said Bree Sargent, education director for the Acadiana Center for the Arts.
PACE is language-based — meaning students not only create art but write about it. The art lessons are tied to what students are learning in their academic subjects, so the teaching artists collaborate with the classroom teacher on developing lessons that fit the curriculum.
“I’ve seen light bulbs go off when they’re doing their projects,” said Meg Cornell, a second-grade teacher at Carencro Heights Elementary.
Teaching artist Jared Guidry (no relation to Paget Guidry) said he’s seen firsthand how the program has helped boost students’ confidence and pride in their accomplishments.
“I’ve personally experienced the kids getting immediate success in making visual art,” Guidry said. “They can take that success and apply it to their other subjects.”
He said he’s also seen struggling writers’ skills improve.
“Because students are interested in what they’re writing about and because they’re writing about something they’ve created, it makes it easier for them,” he said.
Guidry is one of a dozen artists who teach with the PACE program.
Another four former PACE artists are part of a federally funded, arts integration program called Art Time, which the district is using as a test project for the future of the PACE program. While Art Time is modeled after PACE, it provides more teacher and artist collaboration in lesson plan development and more arts integration training for the classroom teacher, Art Time program director Julie Fox said.
Art Time is in three schools this year: J. Wallace James, Green T. Lindon and Evangeline elementary schools, and the district hopes to expand it to six more next year, pending grant funding, Fox said.
“We consider this a pilot program for what we want PACE to become because we want teachers to truly integrate the arts,” Fox said. “We want to involve the teachers.”