Three UWG Faculty to Become Teaching Artists for NEA Initiative

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Three University of West Georgia faculty members will participate as teaching artists in a National Endowment for the Arts funded initiative called Arts Engagement in American Communities. UWG’s Shelly Elman, professor of theatre, Jeremy Webb, technical director and adjunct instructor of theatre, and Stephanie Polhemus, instructor of theatre, will serve as teaching artists in the program, based out of Douglas County, Ga.

“Introducing theatre to young people gives them a creative outlet that they might choose to participate in to explore issues or topics that relate to them,” said Elman. “It can be used to make people who feel invisible, feel visible. The arts can do that like no other discipline. Theatre is a true collaborative art and it therefore makes people interact and work together for a common goal. It teaches important social and problem solving skills.”

The grant includes a plan by the Cultural Arts Council to increase the number of participating schools from five to eight, hire an arts education consultant to assist teaching artists in creating curriculum links and to assess the individual residencies and overall project in terms of curriculum connections and to expand our project partnership to include a new emphasis on drama and theatre.

“Taking part in this program means the world to me,” said Webb. “It will give me a chance to instill a passion for the arts in the next generation of our community and quite possibly begin some of them on their own path to success in the arts. I look forward to seeing what they can do.”

The project furthers the Cultural Arts Council goals to provide high-quality, low-cost and innovative arts education programming to underserved communities county-wide, particularly targeting young people from disadvantaged neighborhoods, support the professional development of and community involvement with local artists and broaden and deepen public support for and appreciation of the arts by developing model projects, which exemplify the value of the arts to participants and audiences throughout our community.

More specifically, the project outcome measured, agreed upon by Douglas County Schools and Cultural Arts Council, is twofold. It first measures that 80% of participating students will demonstrate enhanced learning strategies, better attendance and improved interpersonal skills, measured by higher test scores, better report cards and direct observation by after school instructors, teaching artists and the consultant. Secondly, it measures that participating teachers and teaching artists will use curriculum-linked arts infusion techniques successfully on a regular basis, measured by direct observation and lesson plan review by the after school program coordinators and director, arts education consultant and the Cultural Arts Council staff.

The Arts in After School initiative, developed with Douglas County Schools, has included five six-week residences in least served schools with experienced and expert teaching artists for the past five years. Students in kindergarten through 12th grade are recommended by their teachers and qualified by their scores on standardized tests as at least one year below grade level. Parents of the participating students are required to attend meetings throughout the year, addressing adult literacy issues as well as student academic goals; parental involvement is key to the program's success. Every residency concludes with a “Celebration of Success,” when parents can appreciate their children’s achievement and participate in hands-on intergenerational art-making activities. With NEA support, the Cultural Arts Council will increase the number of participating schools from five to eight, hire an arts education consultant to create curriculum links and to assess the project, and expand the project to include a new emphasis on drama and theatre.

“We are of course thrilled to be a part of this effort, and the entire faculty look forward to continuing to build on this important relationship in arts engagement in our communities,” said Pauline Gagnon, professor of theatre and department chair.

Elman will teach at the high school level, Webb at the middle school level and Polhemus at the elementary school level.