A $1.9 million federal grant will allow Arts Partners to bring a pilot program that uses the arts to help children learn to seven Wichita schools where a high percentage of students live in poverty.

Not all kids learn the same way.

Some need to touch and learn by working with their hands. Many need to write things down to remember them. And some learn by singing, performing, painting or drawing. For the latter category, something special is coming, starting this month, to seven Wichita public elementary schools.

Wichita-based Arts Partners has been chosen to receive a $1.9 million grant from the US Department of Education’s Assistance for Arts Education program.

This funding will support a five-year project to strengthen literacy and social emotional learning through an arts integration program to be piloted in seven Title 1 Wichita public schools and expanded to three additional districts across the state.

Since 1998, Arts Partners has presented arts-in-education in early childhood through high school programming that integrates visual, performing and literary arts curriculum through artist-led workshops, residencies, performances, and field trips.

Arts integration, is an approach to teaching delivered by a trained visual or performance artist, that allows students to meet both academic and character standards.  It has a lofty title: “Increasing Literacy and Social and Emotional Learning Through Arts Integration,” but the concept has been around for decades and is pretty simple.

“I remember learning my alphabet by singing the ABC song,” said Ellamonique Baccus, Executive Director of Arts Partners. “I think a lot of other people can say the same. Think of arts integration education as an expansion of that.”

 Baccus says the grant also allows Arts Partners to hire local visual artists and performance artists to present programs and workshops in the schools.

“I’m very proud to say that this program allows us to support our local economy by training and employing artists, at a very competitive wage, to become residents in the education programs,” Baccus said. “We are actively recruiting local artists for this role and we invite local artists to contact us about this opportunity.”

Baccus, who has been the Executive Director at Arts Partners for the last four years, said this is the first time this grant has been awarded in Kansas and it is one of just 27 projects selected for funding from across the country. Wichita schools will be a model for implementing the system in other districts.

The grant has three main components: (1) professional development for teachers and artists, (2) artist residencies in schools that increase literacy and improve emotional and character development in students, and (3) research. The grant pays for a biannual symposium that convenes educators across the state this year and again in 2024 and 2026.

All of the work in schools will use children’s books written by local artists and educators that have been published by Arts Partners. To further enhance the work in schools, Arts Partners has also produced a series of videos called Art Sparks that focus on literacy and the arts, which will be broadcast on local PBS station KPTS Channel 8 in the months of November and March.

Earlier this month, October the seven pilot programs began in Kindergarten through second grade. Next year, it expands to cover Kindergarten through 5th grade in the seven pilot schools.

Arts Partners has just begun the process of identifying additional school districts to expand the program in the 2024 and 2025 school years.