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Charter academy infuses art into daily lessons
McEver Arts Academy third-grader Daniel Hernandez reads aloud a part of the story of Goldilocks. - photo by Tom Reed

Susan Nation has seen firsthand the benefits of arts for local young people.

Nation is a drama teacher at McEver Arts Academy, a school in which 73 percent of students speak English as a second language. As part of her lesson plan, Nation uses acting
and improvisation to help build her students' confidence.

"When they talk in front of others, they lose that fear," she said. "They know they have those abilities."

Arts-based strategies such as Nation's can be seen schoolwide at McEver. The school has created several new programs since June, when it was approved for charter status, changing it from McEver Elementary School to McEver Arts Academy.

So far, the student reaction has been positive, McEver Principal Catherine Rosa said.

"They love it. They don't want to be absent," she said.

In Laura Gale's music class, second- and third-grade students work on the musical "Seussical," while her kindergarten through first-grade students practice storytelling with instruments. Activities such as singing and dancing can also be seen in math and science courses.

"They will sometimes use movement in math," Rosa said.
"With multiplication, they dance to the rhythm of the factors."

Students also have access to iPod Touches, which are portable media players. The 60 devices contain more than 40 games and applications such as Oregon Trail and a game to study the planets.

"It's empowering when kids can take hold of technology and creativity and just do," Rosa said.

Many of the school's transformations were aided by a Character Through the Arts grant that combines arts with character building and gives teachers training to use arts-based strategies in the classroom. Support also came from community members who became involved in the planning process.

Fifth-grade student Joann Maire Horn, who transferred to McEver Arts Academy last year, said the school has given her a chance to find her niche and try out acting and pottery. She said she likes the chance to express herself.

"This expands our doors," she said.