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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools educators, UNC Charlotte students bring arts-based learning to classrooms

A partnership between a local elementary school, UNC Charlotte and a national nonprofit not only is benefiting young students but training future educators.

In fall, a number of first-semester freshman UNCC students in the education curriculum went to classrooms at Albemarle Road Elementary School each week to lead arts-infused, inquiry-based learning, known as AIIBL (pronounced “able”) projects.

The local partnership is part of a pilot program launched by LilySarahGrace, a national organization that awards grants for AIIBL classroom projects in under-funded public elementary schools. The organization also provides professional development for teachers who want to use the method, according to the group’s website.

Anna Glodowski, a teacher at Albemarle Road Elementary, is a volunteer member of the LilySarahGrace Education Council, which helps to design the grants, review applicants and expand the organization’s reach.

AIIBL learning supports Common Core standards and helps ensure students understand the “five C’s” – community, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity – Glodowski said.

“AIIBL is a type of learning that reaches all learners and allows all children to learn, grow and feel successful, because they are actually able to be successful,” Glodowski said.

With AIIBL – sometimes called project-based learning – teachers are facilitators rather than directors, Glodowski said. The method encourages curiosity and creativity and can teach to several subjects at once.

“It’s very possible AIBBL may have three to four (subjects) merging together for one project. It’s not just, ‘Today we’re going to read,’ or, ‘Today we do math,’ ” she said.

The projects

Susan Harden, assistant professor of education at UNCC, said the partnership between the two local schools has been building for eight years.

It started when Glodowski, a UNCC alumna, asked faculty members about getting future teachers engaged in the community. Education students from UNCC began mentoring in Glodowski’s classroom, and the partnership has grown since, Harden said.

“While the partnership was developing, there was the de-emphasis of arts in schools,” Harden said. The recent involvement of LilySarahGrace and its focus on AIIBL was a welcome addition to the relationship, she said.

This past semester, Harden’s students went into eight classrooms each week to lead AIIBL-based projects, all on the theme, “What do I want to be when I grow up?”

The theme was relevant to both UNCC and elementary students, Harden said.

The projects looked different for every grade level. Each classroom presented its projects during a November showcase at the elementary school.

Kindergartners made life-size paper cutouts and, through AIIBL research, drew the clothing they’d wear to their desired professions and listed the tools and traits they’d need to be successful.

Fourth-graders were focused on multiplication tables. One student used those skills to figure out what a pilot’s annual salary is, Glodowski said. “They took the career they’d chosen and demonstrated their learning through an art form,” she said. “Some made commercials, some made up songs. A lot used Play-Doh to (sculpt) their knowledge of the career,” she said.

“It’s not just a little craft, but there’s a research component, a presentation component,” Glodowski said.

“It’s so powerful for the students because it’s so exploratory and hands-on,” she said.

“They may not realize they’re doing math, but they’re still getting what they need.”

In January, LilySarahGrace will provide professional development for the teachers of Albemarle Road Elementary, Glodowski said.

Although Harden won’t bring another round of UNCC freshmen through until next fall, many of her students plan to continue to volunteer at the school, she said.

“You have to have a highly engaging and emotional experience right away,” Harden said, because many of her students are unsure whether they want to pursue a teaching career.

“I can’t imagine not doing (this partnership again). It was so effective and transformative for my students. I just can’t see doing it any other way.”

Transformative experience

Raiann Rosier, 18, said she has been good at math her whole life and thought she’d follow in her brother’s footsteps to become an engineer.

A week before school started, however, she switched to elementary education in hopes of inspiring others and making a difference, she said.

After her experience at Albemarle Road Elementary, Rosier said, she’s confident she made the right choice: “I really want to be a teacher because of that experience.”

Harden said the AIIBL classroom experience not only has been engaging and emotional for all the students, it gives future teachers confidence.

“This pushes them into the classroom, and they love it. … This is getting their confidence that they could go into a setting like that and know they can actually do it.”

Harden said she is hopeful more UNCC freshmen can go to Albemarle Road, as well as other schools, while connecting more local educators with LilySarahGrace.

“I’m hopeful that the pendulum is swinging back and that schools have decided that ‘skill and drill’ is not the way to go,” Harden said of more traditional teaching focused on worksheets and memorization. “They’ve got to do more stuff like this.”

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