Summer Arts Academy

A Teacher’s Story

by Tracey Cooper, Science Teacher at Oxon Hill Middle School and Site Director of Young Audiences’ Summer Arts Academy

I am a wife, mother, and educator. I have spent the past 14 years in Baltimore City as a science teacher, department head, and district coordinator for summer programs.

When I graduated from Towson University, I wanted to leave my mark and change the world. I wanted to instill a love for science and learning.  I thought I had everything I needed – plus an amazing collection of professional attire! Reality, however, did not get the memo. That first year was a bust!

I followed the lessons in the book, but most students were not engaged.  I gave up my *beloved* summer vacation to teach science in summer school, hoping to learn alternative ways to deliver the lessons. That first summer, I had 20 students on my roster and a binder full of stock lessons. Only 9 students attended. Only 4 of those 9 passed. Another bust.

Over the years, I improved my lessons and grew in my profession. Student achievement increased, but I wanted more. Eventually, I became a coordinator for summer programs at Baltimore City Schools. And the year I met and collaborated with Young Audiences of Maryland, I fell in love.

Over the next few of summers, I worked with Young Audiences revising the way we did things in summer school.  Artists were more actively involved in the content classes and were not just providing enrichment for students.  We initiated a co-teaching model between artists and the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) instructors.

Summer Arts Academy
An Academy student shows off her hand-built clay sculpture.

Attendance soared.  The attendance rate was the highest we had seen over the past three summers. Students who were enrolled in the arts-integrated lessons did better on their math and science tests. I finally saw that education could be fun and creative for both students and teachers. Artists and teachers maximized their professional abilities through collaboration and support, creating a rich tableau of experiences for students.

This past summer, Baltimore City Schools asked Young Audiences to develop a more comprehensive summer learning program. Although I had different plans for my summer, how could I pass on the opportunity to work as a site director with Young Audiences of Maryland?

The result? The Summer Arts Academy: a fully arts-integrated summer learning program that provided a dynamic, creative, and supportive environment for students to learn about the creative process and grow socially, emotionally, and academically.

Teachers received dynamic training from the Maryland State Department of Education and planned integrated lessons with engaging strategies that included movement, rap, and improv! Each week, teachers reflected on their work with the teaching artists, modifying, as needed, both teaching practice and student process. Other summer learning sites had discipline issues, but our students were too busy learning and having fun.

Summer Arts Academy
Young Audiences Media and Digital Arts teacher, Ras Tre, demonstrates filming techniques for an Academy student.

This experience has inspired not only students but also teachers.  As an educator, I see a new way to instruct our children and make an impact. I now use the arts integration techniques I learned over the summer to encourage and empower students and teachers.  Young Audiences’ comprehensive approach to arts integration maximizes the learning process for educators. With the help of Young Audiences, students may have found a love of learning, but I have been renewed in the art of teaching.  Reality seems to have finally gotten the memo!

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