Monday, March 1, 2010

APAL - Past, Present and Future



photo: Actress Jane Fonda and poet Alice Lovelace

An organization like Atlanta Partnership for Arts in Learning (APAL) comes to exist because of dedicated people with a vision. The early and continuing history of APAL is chock full of talented people who have used their knowledge, energy and talent to focus on arts in education. These are people committed to helping students succeed, people who care about education and love their Georgia communities and support the schools. APAL was founded in 2000 by Atlanta educators, artists, and active community members. Founding stakeholders included actress Jane Fonda, executive director of the Center for Urban Education at GSU Dr. Lisa Delpit, and poet Alice Lovelace.

The driving vision was for APAL to create arts infusion partnerships between teachers and artists in the community. APAL's arts infusion method paired a teacher, or teachers with a respected APAL teaching artist, and together they created lesson plans that allowed students to engage deeply with the subject matters and learn subjects in ways that were previously unavailable or unknown to them.

The introductory projects were wildly successful and students learned complex science through theater, danced to an understanding of math, and sculpted a structure into history. By bringing arts into the classroom and directly into the learning experience, APAL offered teachers, students, and artists new opportunities for growth and learning.

In 2000, 2001, 2003-04 APAL funded and facilitated very successful arts in learning partnerships at Benteen Elementary School, John Hope Elementary School, Parkside Elementary School, Charles R. Drew Charter School, Renfroe Middle School, Walden Middle School, KIPP Academy, South Atlanta High School, Grady High School, and the Horizons School. During that time, APAL also developed a professional development series with Atlanta Public Schools.

From 2004-2006 APAL fell into a period of flux as the original leadership shifted and moved on to other challenges. By 2005 the artists who had worked on the front lines delivering quality arts in ed in the schools took over leadership of the organization with the former board's blessing. These artists decided that the opportunities offered by APAL to the arts education community, to the students, the teachers, the communities they served were far too important for the organization disappear. In the fall of 2006 APAL returned to the metro Atlanta community with great gusto, funding three partnerships between teaching artists and educators at Grady High School, North Atlanta High School and again at the Horizons School.

Since 2006, master teaching artists and core APAL-ers Jeff Mather and Barry Stewart Mann have partnered with well known artists in the Atlanta community like Celeste Miller, Nicole Livieratos, Scott Painter, Hilda Willis, Cheryl Myrbo and others to produce quality arts partnerships with schools and teachers. APAL worked hard with the esteemed Kathie deNobriga, arts education consultant, and Arnold Aprill of the Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE)to streamline a new mission and special projects as the org moved forward with renewed passion, creating novel ideas in how to connect the arts and education.

Currently the good news just keeps on coming: Visual teaching artist Jeff Mather and S. Atlanta High School of Law and Social Justice Current Issues (and Teach for America) teacher Alysa Campbell recently worked together on an arts infusion project in Digital Storytelling with enthusiastic 9th graders. In 2009 APAL was awarded a Small & Emerging Grassroots Arts Program grant from Fulton County Arts Council! Also, Barry Stewart Mann developed and worked with high school students on the Disease Awareness Project, successfully infusing drama and storytelling into learning about the science of health issues.

As APAL enters the last year of its first decade, there is much to celebrate and much more to focus on as APAL embraces its mission and commitment to sustained, innovative partnerships between teaching artists and educators with an enlightened trust in artists.