I am not sure what you know about Academy for Integrated Arts. It is a small school that is making a big splash with parents and students. Academy for Integrated Arts (AFIA) is a public tuition free charter school in Kansas City, MO. The school mission reads in part,
“The arts serve as a catalyst for learning, achievement, curiosity and self-esteem. Students will be able to create and actively express a deeper meaning of subject matter content through using visual arts as well as music, dance and dramatization.”
Students at AFIA experience art in multiple parts of their instruction every day. This means that from pre-kindergarten to 6th grade, students have an opportunity to use the arts as a medium to demonstrate their mastery of course content. On a recent trip to the campus, I witnessed students expressing their understanding of life cycles through movement. It was powerful to watch, and in my opinion, evidence that for some children movement is key to getting a good grasp on what can be tough content. I was on campus because I had been invited to attend Celebration of Learning for the Spring semester. This is a bi-annual gathering of children, teachers, and parents where staff and families share a meal, students show parents what they have been working on in class in the form of arts presentations, and during this particular event, older students were selling their artwork and other creations as a culmination to their entrepreneurship project.
I was struck by two things upon entering the building:
1. The place was packed. Parent engagement is not an issue at AFIA. Parents, extended family members and friends showed up in droves to support children in their presentations. The parking lot was completely full with more people coming when I arrived. Parents I spoke with were pleased at the creativity exhibited by students and happy to be embraced as members of the AFIA community. Their enthusiasm and engagement stuck out to me, because a common misconception of parents of children in urban schools is that they are uninterested. AFIA’s method of connecting family life, student capability, and the arts has proven to be a draw for a population that has been incorrectly typified as difficult to reach.
2. Student artwork covers EVERY wall in this building. Walking through AFIA feels a bit like going through an art gallery. Children are engaged in learning and use each surface to display their findings. They have corners where they have strung up solar system models and cell models. Students’ self-portraits are hung in the hallways as well as a mural depicting their learning about justice and injustice throughout time. They have a makerspace where they use materials to create solutions to real world problems and then they display those solutions on the walls as well. It is a dream for every child who colors outside of the lines. This is a school for smart and creative children.
Staff at AFIA are some of the most approachable and aligned instructors that I have encountered. They proudly showed me their classrooms (which look more like art studios), explained their approach to learning (each child has a choice in how they demonstrate learning as long as they can show they mastered the standard), and allowed me to sit in on their meet and greets with parents just after dinner. The place is remarkable and while I think it would make a great profit as an Air BnB, I am excited to see what happens in the lives of students as this team continues to refine their approach and push the boundaries of what is possible in the classroom.
We are all in this profession because we want to make a difference. Educators all believe that their contribution can play a part in catapulting a child to a bright future. At AFIA teachers are sharing their love for art with students and teaching them that real learning involves taking what you have and taking what you are learning and creating your own meaning from it. The process is unique in the Kansas City education space and something I will continue to watch. Remember to lead is to constantly learn, and while others may not tell you the truth, I always will. Learning is not one size fits all. Sometimes you have to break the mold in order to build a better model.
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