Kalamazoo Public Schools (Kalamazoo Arts Integration Initiative)

The Kalamazoo Arts Integration Initiative (KAII), begun in 2003, has focused on forming partnerships with teachers and artists in the Kalamazoo Public Schools in order to create meaningful arts-integrated curriculum. During its first 10 years, KAII has worked to build community by further developing and nurturing partnerships with local community groups, businesses, cultural organizations, institutions of higher education and parents to enhance understanding, resources and support for arts education.

KAII provides educational opportunities for classroom teachers and students to use the arts as a vehicle for learning. In turn these opportunities encourage imagination and, therefore, creativity in the classroom. As education expert and MacArthur Fellow Robert Root-Bernstein has written, “Learning to think creatively in one discipline opens the door to understanding creative thinking in all disciplines. Educating this universal creative imagination is the key to producing lifelong learners capable of shaping the innovations of tomorrow.” (Preface, Sparks of Genius: The Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People 1999).

KAII’s learning opportunities come in myriad ways. For example, Northglade Montessori Magnet School elementary students are learning, studying and understanding science curriculum — specifically, animal habitats, weather, life cycles and water cycles — by making connections with art and nature. Through KAII they are engaged in meaningful learning experiences where they are active participants in their education. In this unit students are listening and dancing to Vivaldi’s, The Four Seasons; creating weather events through music and dance improvisation; creating original music and movement to children’s literature (The Hungry Caterpillar, for example); creating an original book with student photography, printing, creative writing, papermaking and binding; and creating an original song about habitats with local songwriter, Steve Barber.

In the after-school Declaration Tree and Hope Quilt projects, students have used literacy strategies to brainstorm, describe, design and fashion collaborative works of visual art and creative writing for installations and permanent displays throughout the community. These projects build supportive bridges providing young artists from lowincome homes an opportunity to participate in a public reception and exhibit. Students are engaged in a positive and enriching art experience where they share ideas with each other and members of the community, being embraced by a community that has involved them in all stages of the project — design, creation, discussion and exhibition.

As a cross-curricular, multi-disciplinary, integrated approach to education, KAII offers much more than traditional curriculum alone. Indeed, through creative, self-expressive, multi-cultural experiences, KAII fosters increased academic achievement, healthy social and emotional development, and an enriched quality of life.