CSU art students help underprivileged children through BRAINY

The Bringing Art Integration to Youth program was started to bring third and fourth grade students from low income families to the UCA to introduce them to the arts, demonstrate the role of the arts in a cultural community and demonstrate that the arts can be accessible as an educational pursuit.

When the University Center for the Arts first opened in 2008, all arts programs were under one roof, which inspired co-founder and co-director Linny Frickman to start the program.

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“(The other co-director) Dr. Fahey and I saw this as a unique opportunity to extend the work that we were doing with the visual arts to a truly integrative program with all four arts disciplines practiced at the center represented – art, music, theatre and dance,” Frickman said. “We designed a program where elementary students could experience each discipline during a full day visit to the center with experiential, hands-on, and age-appropriate activities.”

The program brings eight to 10 Title I schools throughout the year for a day to learn creativity and art education from CSU students.

“I think this is a great program for the kids because it not only gets them out of class for the day, but also gets them moving,” said Brittany Hazel, senior dance and human development and family studies major and student teacher for BRAINY. “They also throughout the BRAINY field trip get to do so much creating on their own that they feel in control of the learning process.”

According to Frickman, numerous studies show that providing integrated arts opportunities engages at-risk students in powerful learning experiences throughout the curriculum and increases self-esteem and academic success leading to productive lives in adulthood.

“BRAINY is based on the belief that at-risk youth prosper when exposed to opportunities in the art,” Frickman said. “In addition, the project addresses decreased and limited funding for the arts within the schools and the need to provide meaningful arts programming for under-served youth in our community.”

In a typical BRAINY session, the kids go through four sessions. The first two in the morning go through visual arts and music, the kids are then served lunch and they return in the afternoon for lessons in dance and theater.

“Each session focuses on an appropriate age-level curriculum centered on an integrated theme derived from current museum exhibitions,” Frickman said. “The interactive activities are designed to complement model content standards in art, music, dance, theatre, social studies, geography and math and to address multiple modes of learning.”

Through BRAINY, students get hands on experience in all the aspects of art, but their teachers also learn from the program as well.

“I have never seen so much learning taking place on so many levels,” Dr. Bonnie Jacobi, professor of the music part of BRAINY said. “You have the children learning about the arts, the [CSU students] learning teaching techniques, the classroom teachers learning about how they can incorporate the arts.”

“I have also heard some of the classroom teachers say they thought the experience was exceptional, and several have remarked that our music activities could even be used in their math or reading classroom,” added Jacobi.

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The program also benefits the CSU students working with the kids. According to Lisa Morgan, dance professor with the BRAINY program, it allows the students to practice the craft of teaching.

“Working with the young students gives [CSU students] a chance to get pre-student teaching experience,” said Morgan. “Usually it is a pedagogy course, like a practicum.”

“In these classes, they practice education skills and teach similar to what they eventually would be teaching in,” added Morgan.

For Emily Aldag, senior dance major and student teacher in BRAINY, she enjoys how the program allows the kids to express themselves.

“Kids are inspiring because they don’t have a set way to do things,” Aldag said. “As we get older I think we tend to have one way to do things and the kids can take a simple guidline and have 12 different ways to do it.”

“They come up with stuff that you think ‘wow that was really profound for a kid’ and I love it,” added Aldag. “I like that we don’t tell them what’s right or wrong and I don’t think that happens often. It’s good because BRAINY lets them be creative.”

Feedback from surveys filled out by students and teachers has been nothing but positive for the BRAINY program.

“A review of feedback gathered from students, teachers, chaperones, and school administrators indicates three overarching themes articulating that the BRAINY program is well organized and age appropriate, presents sessions that are hands-on and experiential, addressing multiple modes of learning, and involves students actively in learning,” Frickman said.

According to Frickman, a fourth grade teacher who has participated in three years of the program wrote, ‘The BRAINY program inspires teachers to incorporate the arts in all academic areas through expert modeling of arts integration at CSU. Teachers and students leave primed for creative arts integration into the curriculum.  Instructors realize the value of such integration based on the incredible engagement and motivation of the students as we watch them learn academics the “BRAINY Way.” BRAINY is so much more than just a one-day field trip; it is the inspiration to transform instruction throughout the entire school year and I personally feel profoundly privileged to be able to participate in the program with my students every year.”

The CSU students say that the kids are usually sad to leave at the end of the day. According to Aldag, at the end of the day, the kids usually ask to stay at the UCA longer.

“The feedback I have gotten is that they love the dance space in general because it is so big, but their favorite part is creating their own dance and showing it to their friends,” added Hazel.

BRAINY is the only fully collaborative program at UCA that unites all the arts, while also giving back to the community.

“I think it’s a great demonstration of programs involved to show that the arts reach across age ranges,” Morgan said. “It crosses the social and economic [spheres]. The arts is available to everyone and demonstrates how this can happen. It provides not only teaching experience for CSU students, but learning for the younger students.”

Collegian Writer Taylor Pettaway can be reached at news@collegian.com.