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News from 2021-2022

Posted: December 8, 2021

Arts Integration Puts the "Art" in "Smart"

The goal of schools like Janet Kahn School of Integrated Arts is to help kids advocate for themselves, think for themselves, and question.

Note: Staff who support New Mexico lawmakers visited schools as they prepared for the 2022 legislative session. We are featuring some of the APS schools and programs they learned about.

What is arts integration in schools? That’s a question Christy Sigmon, principal at Janet Kahn School of Integrated Arts, has heard quite a lot.

“It’s not Juilliard, and we’re not training the kids to go to Juilliard,” Sigmon says. “We are providing kids an education that’s different but still touches on every learning modality. It’s not about mobiles and finger painting; it is purposeful.”

Many kids do well with a traditional classroom learning format, but not every child learns the same way. Years of research have shown that there’s no shortage of students who learn more effectively through alternative means of teaching—kids who were often marginalized academically because the traditional education model didn’t connect with them as well.

Kinesthetic learners engage in physical activity to absorb, retain, and recall information by doing rather than by listening or watching. This can include movement, hands-on experimentation, and the arts. “If you’re a kinesthetic learner, this is where you come. If you’re a visual learner, this is where you come,” says Sigmon. “Our goal is to create kids who can advocate for themselves, think for themselves, are critical thinkers, and question, not just comply.”

In addition to teaching critical thinking, encouraging the arts, and embracing those who learn differently, arts-integrated instruction also benefits students who are learning a new language. There are nearly 10 languages other than English spoken in the homes of Janet Kahn Elementary School’s students, and the arts-integration approach has additional benefits for English language learners.

Principal Sigmon says, “Arts is a universal language, and so when you’re doing visual thinking strategies where you are having to look at a picture and look at what might the emotions be, what might the time frame be, what do you think might be happening in this picture? The kids are talking to each other about what they are seeing, and the kids who speak a different language see that same picture and listen to the kids who are speaking English, and they gradually end up picking up the English language just by kid talk and visual literacy.”

Arts integration takes a specialized approach, and the faculty at Janet Kahn have invested countless hours in high-quality, nationally ranked professional development to become some of the best in their field and are sought out to be keynote speakers at national and international conferences. In 2019, teacher Erin Mayer received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. The school has become so well-known for arts integration that it has drawn visitors from several states to observe. “Being able to share that with others has been awesome,” Sigmon says. “Having people come to us from other states, it feels pretty good.”

Janet Kahn Elementary serves students from surrounding neighborhoods and is a magnet school for visual and kinesthetic learners. It has partnerships with the Kennedy Center, Santa Fe Opera, and Albuquerque Museum. The advocacy training students receive provided them with an opportunity to address their community’s needs in front of the Albuquerque City Council. Every spring, an annual Arts Expo is a cumulative showcase of student learning in common core standards meeting with the national core arts standards.