PROVO History lessons brought to life through theater and poetry, social problems taught using painting and music, dance as an integral part of social education it's all part of Beverley Taylor Sorenson's dream for Utah elementary schools.
In pursuit of that dream, she and her family, through the Sorenson Legacy Foundation, recently made a $4.5 million donation to Brigham Young University's Arts Reaching and Teaching in Schools (ARTS) Partnership. The endowment is one of a series of gifts the foundation has made to Utah universities to support the enhancement of arts education in elementary schools.
"The arts are really important in an overall well-balanced education," said Jim Sorenson, a member of the board of directors for the Salt Lake-based nonprofit organization. "When you integrate them into the core subjects, test scores improve, classroom behavior is better, participation increases and absenteeism decreases."
BYU plans to use the money to enhance an existing program that provides arts training for teachers and future teachers. Beverley Taylor Sorenson was influential in the conception of the nearly two-year-old project and has already donated $1.5 million to the cause, said Robert Young, dean of the David O. McKay School of Education at BYU.
"In two years we've been able to do an awful lot of good, both on the BYU campus and in the community," Young said. "The additional money will make it possible for us to recruit more students into the program and train more arts specialists. We would love to see the arts enhanced in every school in the districts we partner with."
Through the BYU ARTS Partnership, students studying visual arts, dance, music and theater are paired with elementary school teachers for an internship. The university works with five school districts: Alpine, Jordan, Nebo, Provo and Wasatch.
The BYU interns share their artistic expertise with the teachers. The teachers share their teaching expertise with the interns.
"The teachers and BYU students work together side by side so they can learn from each other, building on each other's strengths," said Cally Flox, program director for the BYU ARTS Partnership.
The result, Flox said, is an art-enriched curriculum that "brings things to life" for the children.
Ashley Hansen Leonard, a 24-year-old dance education major at BYU, worked with a schoolteacher at Midas Elementary in Riverton to teach children self-expression through movement. The two incorporated simple math and human anatomy into the twice-weekly dance lessons.
"Some kids don't learn well if you give them a picture and words," Leonard said. "Some kids need to get a more physical sense of an idea before they understand the concept."
Studies have shown that students retain knowledge better if teachers use art to teach traditional classroom subjects like history and math, said Stephen Jones, dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communications at BYU.
"If you can take a difficult and divisive subject like the Civil War and re-enact it through dance, music, movement and feelings about racism in American history, that's going to be a powerful history lesson," he said. "Students aren't going to forget that the day after the test."
In addition to placing BYU arts students in elementary schools, the BYU ARTS Partnership also organizes workshops to help teachers learn to more effectively incorporate art into their curriculums.
Teachers from all over Utah got hands-on experience this week making art, dancing and learning to use the computer to make media arts projects at the program's annual Arts Express Summer Conference. At more extensive workshops throughout the year, sponsored by the BYU ARTS Partnership, arts integration professionals give elementary school teachers detailed ideas for adding color to their lessons.
"Most of the elementary kids these teachers help won't be artists for a life profession, but the skills and tools they gain through artistic expression will stay with them," Jones said. "Those skills will benefit them in their families and their workplaces."The Sorenson Legacy Foundation was established by the James LeVoy Sorenson family to promote charitable, religious, education, literary and scientific endeavors.