Four school districts in Berkshire County will split a $740,000 federal grant to fund professional development in arts education.
Even though the region is one of the cultural capitals of the Northeast, schools in Berkshire County often must consider cutting arts programs to balance their budgets.
Now, North Adams, Adams-Cheshire Regional, Pittsfield, and Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public school districts have been awarded nearly $740,000 over the next four years by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement.
North Adams Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Malkas says more than half of the students pre-kindergarten to grade 12 at each of the schools – and 60 percent in North Adams – come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Arts education improved motor skills, language developments, decision making and the critical thinking skills developed through making choices in the course of creating art, visual learning, inventiveness, cultural awareness, and improved academic performance,” Malkas says.
In the first round of funding, about $144,000, educational leaders are incentivized to form school-community partnerships to create arts education professional development opportunities for teachers.
The Berkshire Museum, Berkshire Theatre Group, Clark Art Institute, Jacob’s Pillow, Barrington Stage Company and MASS MoCA are eyed for the school-community partnerships.
Jake Eberwein, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Dean of Graduate and Continuing Education, says helping teachers get high-quality instruction in music, dance, drama, media arts and visual arts from the community is essential. Eberwein heads the Berkshire Compact, the county’s education think tank.
“The ability to further strengthen collaborative partnerships, connections and opportunity across our region is foundational and fundamental to the compact,” Eberwein says. “We are confident that this project advances the collective effort significantly. It will connect educators from across our region in learning, in building skills, strategies and networks, therefore shifting mindsets of how the arts can be applied in building pathways to student engagement and student learning.”
The newly formed Berkshire Regional Arts Integration Network project, or BRAINWorks, will lead the way. Eberwein says it will encourage students who have gained skills and connections to stay in the region, which has experienced a significant population decline.
“It further positions our Berkshire brand, right? A place where arts and creativity are valued, celebrated and integrated into what we do, what we are known for, advancing our creative economy, which continues to be critical to the future of our region,” Eberwein says.
Programs for teachers are already in the works for the summer at MCLA.
North Adams Public Schools Director of Curriculum Kimberly Roberts-Morandi says schools will be better equipped to integrate the arts into English Language Arts, mathematics, social studies, science, technology and movement classes. Roberts-Morandi co-authored the winning grant proposal.
“The infusion of the arts can facilitate differentiated learning and learning that is more personalized – taking advantage of a student’s natural talents and their curiosity,” Roberts-Morandi says.
This is the first grant awarded to Massachusetts from the federal Professional Development for Arts Educators program since 2009.