VIRGINIA ASSOCIATION OF INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS
CONNECT. COLLABORATE. LEAD.
The Arts, My Outlet and Inspiration
A Thriving Arts Scene
Fostering Creativity Through Digital
Providing Real-World Art Experiences
Art Education to Promote
Self-Awareness of Learning Styles
Arts Education at The New
Editorial Advisory Board
Jennifer Harter, Assistant Director of Marketing
and Communications, St. Catherine’s School
Cathy Campbell, Director of Content Strategy
and English Faculty, Highland School
Interested in writing an article for an upcoming
Vision? Contact: Kim Failon, Director of Communications,
VAIS, at firstname.lastname@example.org
The first time I had my foot on the pedal
and my hands on the wheel I wasn’t
in a car. I was eleven at summer camp in
the basement of an academic hall at the
school I would eventually call my alma
mater. The counselors had just taught us
how to mold the hunk of clay into a cone
and were teaching us how to center it
on the pottery wheel. I had always loved
art, but this was my first opportunity to
dabble in ceramics. Looking back at this
moment, I had no way of knowing that
art, specifically ceramics, would become a
central part of my story.
When I went to sign up for classes as
a freshman, my advisor suggested I take
Intro to Art and Design Fundamentals,
just in case I wanted to take other art
classes later. My dad scoffed at the idea
but didn’t make anything of it after the
meeting. My advisor knew before I did
that art would become a passion and
allow me to find some purpose in high
school. For the next four years, I spent
long hours in the ceramics studio throwing
pots, building boxes, and learning
about the clean water crisis.
Art became my outlet, my solace.
In the tiny ceramics studio with my 12
person “family”, I was able to share the
struggles of high school, learn how to
accept and give constructive feedback,
and be inspired by more than a textbook.
As I watched my public school peers
fight to keep art class in their schedules,
I became even more grateful for my independent
school education. My advisors
never asked me to choose between art
and something else. My teachers allowed
The Arts, My Outlet
Laura Godwin, Assistant Director of Accreditation and Statistical Analysis, VAIS
me to spend free periods and afternoons
in the studio finishing my IB project. My
parents encouraged me to treat art like
math and science and english. Art was an
essential part of my education.
Since joining the VAIS staff, I have
had the privilege of joining teams for accreditation
visits. When we walk into the
schools, I have an overwhelming sense of
joy when I see student art displayed on
walls, in libraries, and even in classrooms.
I always try to find time to make my way
to an art class to witness creativity firsthand.
The work that happens in the art
rooms at VAIS schools is exceptional.
In art rooms, schools celebrate creativity
and individuality. Students are able to study
different cultures and learn about people
halfway around the world. What was once
seen as different is now seen as unique and
inspiring. Art allows people to look beyond
themselves, struggle together, and create
At this year’s Second Annual VAIS Festival
of the Arts hosted by Fredericksburg Academy,
I watched students use words, notes,
and paint to express themselves. While we
had students from 13 different schools, once
they sat down with a ukulele or made their
way to a stage, they were students celebrating
art together. It’s inspiring to see students
try something new or share their passion
with others. The celebration of art encourages
me to keep creating, keep learning, and
keep celebrating others like the art teachers
doing inspirational work in our 95 schools.
A Thriving Arts Scene
Bethany Weinstein, Communications Manager
Browne Academy, Alexandria
Just over a decade ago, Browne Academy’s
middle school art teacher was a
part-time position. Not anymore. Today
art teacher Jennifer Lam sees every grade
three times each in a six-day rotation,
teaches an additional art class as part of the
middle school’s enrichment program, and
offers jewelry-making as an after-school
enrichment class. Mrs. Lam noted that, in
the past, art was not as valued in schools.
“By having a teacher who values art, the
students also do. Art teaches children to
be creative, and creative thinking is a vital
skill, especially in the workplace.”
Browne Academy’s dedication to art
extends outside the classroom. There are
additional art offerings, including pottery,
in the after-school enrichment program,
and art is part of the curriculum during
Browne Summer Camp (BSC). During the
MLK and Veterans Day assemblies, Mrs.
Lam and lower school art teacher Tietjen
Alvarez display their students’ art projects
relating to the event. One of the biggest
days of the year, Grandparents and Special
Friends Day, kicks off with a Celebration of
the Arts, which showcases the visual and
performing arts talent of the students.
Like Browne’s art program, the school’s
music curriculum has evolved over the
years. Not only is it an integral part of the
school-day curriculum, students can take
private music lessons, participate in choral
and instrumental ensembles, act in the
spring musical, and keep the musical momentum
going through music class and
weekly performances at BSC. Lower school
music teacher Brittany Brandt remarked,
“At Browne Academy our music program,
like much of the world, is developing at a
faster rate than in years past. While earlier
music education had a strong emphasis
on reading notation and participating in
instrumental or choral programs, we are
beginning to grasp how that reaches only
a small percentage of students in a meaningful
way.” Mrs. Brandt continued, “While
notation is still part of the curriculum and
students still participate in musical ensembles,
the program is changing to include
every child, with the goal of music staying
with them for a lifetime.”
The aim of music education is to get
students confidently participating in our
inherently musical culture. Mrs. Brandt
commented, “Musical behavior is a cornerstone
of society, giving roads to expression
when there may be no other
way. Our students’ having enough sensitivity
to be moved by expressive nuances
will give them further enjoyment
of a musical moment. Many of these
ideas are not our own, as we draw from
music researchers and educators like
John Feierabend, Edwin Gordon, Zoltán
Kodály, and Carl Orff when selecting
Browne’s repertoire and curriculum. We
hope that through this rich culture of
quality music, games, poems, and expressive
movement, all of our students will
continue to have their lives enriched by a
Middle school music teacher Danielle
Brosious agreed with Mrs. Brandt and
added that “music education used to focus
on the outcome. Art instruction today
is less about product and more about
process, which provides more opportunity
for individual expression. One big
change is that our children are actually
composing their own music, using technological
tools. This year I have a student
who is arranging and composing music
on a weekly basis and sending it to me!
That is so rewarding.” In the future, Mrs.
Brosious plans to provide more meaningful
context about music in everyday life
(ads, TV, movies).
Art and music are not standalone
subjects at Browne – there is a great deal
of cross-curricular activity. For instance,
5th graders make a clay project to coincide
with their study of Egypt and 6th
graders create mosaics to complement
their study of Rome. Fourth graders’ perimeter
projects incorporate math into
art. Ms. Brosious links music to science by
teaching the science of sound and how instruments
work. She adds in history when
her 5th graders learn about instruments
from the Renaissance period or dress as
monks and compose pieces using square
notation, as they did in medieval times.
“We are living history,” she said.
Browne’s art teachers weave art history
throughout their teaching of techniques,
media, and subject matter. And it’s not
just the past that is important in art. Ms.
Alvarez said that art is also relevant to
current events. “Art is what the children can
get away with in terms of self-expression.
I want them to express themselves in ways
that they feel comfortable.”
Both of Browne’s art teachers agree
that it is important to learn how to follow
the steps for an art project. If a student
deviates from the process, things can go
wrong. However, once the requirements
are met, there is room for more creativity.
According to Ms. Alvarez, “If the students
follow the process, they have ownership
of their work, as well as gratification when
it is completed.”
Accomplishment in the arts can lead to
confidence in other areas. For instance, a shy
student who excels in art may become more
communicative as the year progresses. Mrs.
Lam enjoys the aha! moments, citing the
self-portraits over a grid that her students
draw. “When they follow the directions, their
portraits look great!” she said. “Also, I have
had students go to their math teachers after
this project, saying it helped them understand
how a grid works.” Ms. Brosious heard
from a parent that her child picks up her flute
at home as a strategy for managing stress.
Collaboration is an important part of visual
and performing arts. For Ms. Alvarez, her
current 4th graders, whom she has taught
since kindergarten, come to mind. “They
collaborate well, but they are also competitive,
encouraging each other to be their
Ms. Brosious agreed that the collaboration
component is not one to be overlooked.
She tied it to music and sports, noting that,
in these areas, there is usually someone else
involved. “The children are learning how to
listen and respond and also gaining general
self-awareness.” Browne offers many collaborative
musical opportunities, including choir
starting in 2nd grade, band and handbells
starting in 4th grade, and the middle school
musical. Mrs. Lam’s arts enrichment students
have worked together to paint murals
in the pool-house locker rooms and,
each year, the 8th grade class paints a mural
in the middle school.
Ms. Alvarez’s believes that, “If you can
provoke the students, you get a response.”
This philosophy comes to life in the students’
beautiful creations that grace the
school’s walls and in their confident musical
and theatrical performances before
The arts teachers at Browne, Ms. Brosious
said, are the facilitators, allowing students to
lead, and letting art evolve organically. “All
children are creative and artistically talented
in some way. As teachers of the arts, it’s our
job to figure out what those talents are and
to create a flexible environment that allows
each student to discover their most creative
and expressive self. We hope that all of our
students graduate from Browne as lifelong
artists and music-makers.”
Fostering Creativity Through Digital Composition
Musical composition is foundational to music education.
As Webster (2016) states, “All children are not only
capable of music composition but … they thrive on it as a
way to deeply enhance their musical understanding” (p. 26).
Unfortunately, traditional music composition activities with
paper and pencil are often inaccessible for students without a
well-developed knowledge of music theory. Music technology
can provide an entry point for younger or less-experienced
students to begin composition, even as they are acquiring
basic music theory skills (Schroth, Helfer, & Dammers, 2009).
New technologies have greatly enhanced the ability of music
teachers in Virginia’s independent schools to include music
composition in the curriculum.
Dana W. Litke, Music Teacher, The Langley School, McLean
“All children are not only capable of music composition but …
they thrive on it as a way to deeply enhance
their musical understanding”
In my elementary and middle school general music classes
at The Langley School, students use technology to create
quite sophisticated music compositions and arrangements.
Using software such as Soundtrap or GarageBand, students can
select and arrange pre-recorded loops as well as record vocals
or acoustic instruments. In a recent interdisciplinary project with
my fifth-grade music class, students used the Soundtrap Webbased
software program to compose original musical pieces.
Each fifth-grader wrote a short story in language arts class and
then composed a theme song to go with the story. Students
selected which instrument sounds to use and then layered
different sounds to set a mood and reflect the emotions and
events in their stories. Throughout the unit, students investi-
gated essential questions, such as: How
do musicians make creative decisions?
How do musicians improve the quality of
their creative work? When is creative work
ready to share? (National Coalition for
Core Arts Standards, 2014).
Students continue this type of work
in middle school, adding more depth and
complexity to their musical compositions.
For example, in my seventh-grade general
music class, students wrote original lyrics
and then used music software to record
a vocal melody and add accompaniment.
They used technology to revise and edit
their recordings and enhance their compositions
through the combination of live
and pre-recorded sounds. As they created
their compositions, students explored
musical concepts such as melodic writing,
text setting, and harmonic and rhythmic
alignment. Projects like these provide
opportunities for meaningful interdisciplinary
connections as students integrate
music with language and writing skills.
Several research studies have pointed
out the advantages of using technology
to introduce a wide range of students to
musical composition. Gall and Breeze
(2005) note that music software programs
allow students to save their work
and share their compositions with peers
more easily than with traditional materials.
Another significant finding is that “the
technology allows pupils to make music
that is culturally relevant to them” (Gall &
Breeze, 2005, p. 427). With software programs,
students are able to create pieces
that are similar to the music they listen to
outside of school, piquing their interests.
For example, students may want to create
rock or pop style compositions using
sounds such as a drum kit; the software
enables students to use these sounds
even if actual drum kits are not available
in the classroom or the students do not
know how to play them. Schroth, Helfer,
and Dammers (2009) note that digital
composition provides an ideal format for
differentiation according to student readiness,
interest, and learning profile. As
music educators in independent schools
encounter students with varied abilities,
including gifted students, composition
with technology provides ample opportunities
for creative stimulation.
Engaging students in music composition
with the aid of technology develops
creativity and critical thinking skills.
Projects like those I have implemented in
my classroom at The Langley School provide
an ideal environment for students
to explore and take risks in a supportive
setting. Students have ample time to
come up with creative ideas and then
receive feedback and support from their
teacher and peers. The composition process
also provides plenty of opportunities
for student choice and autonomous learning
(Cramond, et al., 2015). Students can
easily collaborate with their peers as they
work on their compositions. For example,
students can share their Soundtrap projects
online with the teacher or classmates
and even use a video chat feature to
discuss their project and edit simultaneously
with another user. Students develop
greater perseverance as they go through
the rigorous process of creating, assessing,
editing, refining, and presenting final
Technologically enhanced musical
composition has great potential to benefit
music education in independent schools.
While incorporating new technology
projects in the classroom may seem like
a daunting task for music teachers, the
advantages of student engagement, motivation,
and enhanced creativity make it
well worth the effort.
Cramond, B., Sumners, S., An, D. G., Catalana, S. M., Ecke, L., Sricharoen,
N., ...Türkman, S. (2015). Cultivating creative thinking. In F. A. Karnes &
S. M. Bean (Eds.), Methods and materials for teaching the gifted (pp.
345‐378). Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.
Gall, M., & Breeze, N. (2005). Music composition lessons: the multimodal
affordances of technology. Educational Review, 57, 415-433.
National Coalition for Arts Standards (2014). Music standards – PK-8
General Music. Retrieved from https://nafme.org/wp-content/
files/2014/11/2014-Music-Standards-PK-8-Strand.pdf. Schroth, S. T.,
Helfer, J. A., & Dammers, R. (2009). Using technology to assist gifted
children’s musicaldevelopment. Gifted Child Today, 32 (2), 54‐61.
Webster, P. R. (2016). Creative thinking in music, twenty‐five years on.
Music Educators Journal, 102 (3), 26‐32.
Providing Real-World Art Experiences
Nance Sweet, Upper School Art Teacher, Stuart Hall School, Staunton
Stuart Hall School in Staunton, Virginia appreciates, advocates,
and supports the arts at all grade levels, PreK-12. As
expressed in our strategic vision:
“Stuart Hall School will be recognized globally as a distinctive
teaching and learning environment: a premiere day
and boarding school in the Episcopal tradition with historic
Staunton, Virginia as our campus, offering students innovative
educational and real-world experiences and equipping
them to be meaningful contributors to the world. We will be
a project-based, inquiry-based school with an emphasis on
place-based learning in the City of Staunton, working strategically
with key partner organizations to deliver a distinctive
The above statement sounds very impressive, but how do
we as teachers support such a vision? We look for opportunities
where students can be introduced to “real-world” career
experiences while supporting the community in which we
live. As the Upper School Art teacher at Stuart Hall, I created a
painting project that supported both objectives.
The small, quaint town of Staunton is well known for its
celebration of the arts with numerous galleries, small unique
businesses, local artisans, and the Blackfriars Playhouse, the
only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor theatre. The entrance
to our historic downtown is marked by the presence
of an oversized iron sculpture of a watering can, a tribute to
a local gardener. Created by a local professional artesian, the
sculpture is beloved by many. I invited shop owners in downtown
Staunton to ‘commission’ Stuart Hall art students to design
and paint watering cans that represent their businesses.
The goal was to create an opportunity for my top-level art
students to experience a real-world client/artist experience.
This opportunity allowed aspiring artists to collaborate with
shop owners, work through the watering can project details,
create a sample art piece, and craft the final product. This
experience was an excellent opportunity for art students to
explore professional real-life experiences (creating a commissioned
piece of art) while at the same time creating a collaborative
relationship with the town in which they live. Some
of the contributing businesses were: Staunton Downtown
Development Association, The CoArt Gallery, Fretwell Bass &
Acoustic Instruments LLC, The Artisans Loft, Rask Florist, Beverley
School of Art, and of course our own school, Stuart Hall.
This project taught the young artist creative collaboration
with a shop owner and how to effectively communicate ideas
in a meaningful way through visual interpretation. It provided
the Staunton shop owners with custom-designed watering
cans that represented each business. And, it created strong
relationships between Stuart Hall and the Staunton business
community. As an added benefit, the students’ painted watering
cans sprinkled across the town (pardon the pun) added to
the local charm!
Judy Stamper, School Librarian, Sullins Academy, Bristol
How can the Arts at Sullins Academy inspire a sense of wonder and
imagination? Students can shine either when stepping out on the
stage, or when drawing or painting that next masterpiece. Recently,
Sullins used its community connections for inspiration and talent
by inviting a visiting artist, Rabia Rao, a parent of two lower school
students and a native of Pakistan.
The Sullins middle school students received personal guidance
from Rao as a gifted and gracious teacher-artist-in-residence, who
earned her degree in art from Lahore Grammar School in Pakistan.
Receiving exposure to the culture of Pakistan, the students embarked
on a six-week, intensive painting course with Rao. She guided the
students in the creation of three pieces of art using art knives and
acrylics on canvas. Beginning with assignments first of the creation of
a picture of flowers, followed by an ocean scene, and finally a reflective
picture of boats on water, Rao challenged the students to stretch
themselves beyond their comfort zones.
The students were in awe of what they created! As culmination of
the painting course, they were also given the opportunity to select
one painting each to be framed as a gift for a loved one. The next step
in the learning process focused on a series of lessons on tints and
shadows. Using a grouping of vases, students sketched what they saw
and added shadowing accordingly, under the guidance of Rao.
What a gift to have Rabia Rao in the Sullins community to impart
her wisdom of the visual arts to the middle school students - both
global and visual gifts.
Art Education to Promote
Self-Awareness of Learning Styles
Meghan R. McNeill, Director of the Learning Skills Program, Christchurch School, Christchurch
The assignment was to create a piece of art that visually represented
your learning style. The objective was to foster
a greater sense self-awareness regarding individual learning
styles while promoting self-expression and self-advocacy. We
explored painting, photography, and audio-visual mediums
and looked at how the different examples conveyed perspective
and voice, and the use of visual art to tell compelling narratives
in a way words alone often fail us. The assignment was
simple, but the learning aims and intended outcomes were as
dynamic as they were diverse.
Visual art has the power to evoke a level of understanding
beyond the scope of linguistic comprehension. Images
communicate a feeling or a sense of understanding about the
world and our role in it through a medium that challenges our
ability of expression with words. Our students with learning
differences often struggle to define their experiences and perspectives
with words due to executive functioning issues that
present organizational challenges or a language-based learning
difference. Providing these students with the opportunity
to explore who they are and how they learn on a platform that
values the power of artistic expression over the structure of
written language can prove to be a meaningful and dynamic
experience. For these reasons and more, the Learning Skills
Program (LSP) at Christchurch School includes an art project
that engages students in the exploration of art for self-expression
of learning styles into the LSP Independence class: the
final course in a four-year sequence within a comprehensive
learning support program.
The inspiration for this project came several months prior
when I facilitated a professional development session to
promote the understanding of how learning differences impact
our students’ developmental and academic experiences.
I enlisted a few of my students to talk about how their
learning differences impacted specific aspects of their lives,
and I quickly noticed that most of their narratives were a
disorganized stream of sound bites somehow connected to
their experience with ADHD. Before sending these students
off to college, I wanted to make sure they had the capacity
to articulate their learning needs, as well as their strengths
and weaknesses, and I knew that designing a classroom
experience that held the students accountable for actively
creating a visual reflection could be the most effective way
to achieve these aims. Many students with language-based
learning differences struggle with expressing themselves
in writing, and most academic tasks are traditionally rooted
in language. Students with weaknesses in reading and
writing, but who demonstrate potential in musical or visual
intelligences, often feel marginalized by our formal education
system. I knew that an inclusion of this project would
validate their natural strengths while promoting abstract
and creative thinking skills. I partnered with another learning
support teacher that had a stronger relationship and
connection with our seniors to present and scaffold this experience
to our students. A casual observer may have perceived
that time spent on a project that promoted visual art
in a learning support course as a misuse of valuable instructional
time. However, this conclusion could not have been
further from the truth.
By facilitating this experience, we were guiding the development
from concrete to abstract thinking. We were asking
our students to be active participants in a reflective learning
process. Before our students leave Christchurch School, we
want them to have an understanding of themselves as individuals
and learners. This project aimed to develop skills of
self-expression that are often not promoted within a traditional
academic setting. We aimed to promote self-awareness
of learning style, strengths, weaknesses, and to facilitate the
development of self-expression to support the acquisition
of effective self-advocacy skills. The main objective of the
Learning Skills Program is to ensure the success of our students
during their time at Christchurch School and beyond,
and by incorporating art education into our learning support
program, we are providing a platform to develop crucial
social and emotional skills such as self-awareness and self-expression.
This project not only validates often marginalized
learning strengths and styles, but it also promotes vital academic
and life skills required for success as emerging adults
in a world of rapid change.
Arts Education at The New
Alexander Keevil, Director of Student Life & Personal Growth, and Aaron Webb, Chair of Practical
and Fine Arts Department, The New Community School, Richmond
We strive to foster studio environments where students are led to take
creative risks and try something that they initially believe they are
incapable of achieving.
An empty stage. A blank canvas. An unmarked block of wood. Where do we begin when tasked to
fill the void before us? We look within ourselves.
At The New Community School, we foster an environment in which students and teachers
function in harmony during the learning and creative process. Because of our small class sizes, low
student-teacher ratio, and environment focusing on the strengths of dyslexia and related learning
differences, we are a community that excels in connecting to one another. We understand that learning
through creation is a complex and often emotional process. Whether it’s guitar, theatre, ceramics,
or woodworking, our arts courses explore possibilities of strength in areas of intellect that may not
be fully developed in an academic classroom. Each of our courses is designed to pave the way for an
individualized experience for each student. Our classes in the arts lead to students developing skills
which will serve them personally or professionally for years to come.
· Drama, for example, promotes collaboration and interpersonal skills.
· Visual arts courses encourage exploration in a safe environment,
allowing students the opportunity to develop a growth mindset.
· Woodworking develops skills in practical problem solving and
executive functioning by helping students understand how a
step-by-step process leads to an outcome that is both practical
and pleasing to the eye.
· Many of our practical arts courses, such as robotics and programming,
invoke 21st century skills and blend the use of technology
with old-fashioned hard work and determination.
Our teachers nurture a creative learning community that
supports and cares for one another. We strive to foster studio
environments where students are led to take creative risks and try
something that they initially believe they are incapable of achieving.
When students are encouraged to try something outside of
their comfort zone for the first time, there is a chance of failure. For
our students, who are being shepherded in a safe and open environment,
the resilience to learn from failure is a skill that must be
developed as the goal of mastery takes additional practice and
bravery. Our teachers are not only coaches and mentors, but also
cheerleaders. Teachers love to watch students take on a difficult
task and learn from it whether they succeed the first time or not.
They know that with continued encouragement and support,
they will be able to improve and learn from the various outcomes.
The pride teachers express to students, while important, has less
impact than the empowering sense of accomplishment they award
to themselves after they truly experience success and begin to form
a new understanding of what they are capable of achieving.
Each year we close with a theatre production and an art
exhibit that showcase the culmination of our students’ creative
journeys. The productions and exhibits are beautiful events
that often have hidden emotional roots. The emotional roots
of the creative experience travel and grow within our students
for years to come. Often, early creative experiences bloom into
deeper friendships, a stronger sense of self, and a higher level
of confidence. Skills in the arts have been identified as essential
for success in the future. Sometimes these hard-won skills even
flourish into an area of collegiate study.
An oil painting. A dovetail box. A well-delivered monologue.
At TNCS, these products of creation are so much more than the
sum of their parts. Just ask their creators and their teachers.
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