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Regional fine arts teachers come together for OEC conference

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By Brian Garner

Teachers from the school districts that are part of the Olde English Consortium took advantage of the day off from school on Monday to gather at Chester Park Elementary for the OEC’s annual Fine Arts Professional Development Conference. The theme this year was “Arts Transform the Future,” said Miriam Boyd, one of the organizers of the conference for the Chester County School District.

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Since the Conference talked about “transforming” the future, images of the original Transformers, those robots in disguise, were to be found throughout the places where the teachers gathered.

Boyd said there were sessions set up during the daylong conference for the teachers who specialized in art, music, drama, dance, band and visual arts.

The Olde English Consortium serves the Cherokee, Chester, Chesterfield, Clover, Fairfield, Fort Mill, Lancaster, Rock Hill and York schools and Winthrop University and USC-L.

Boyd said the arts are an important part of the curriculum for any student, no matter the grade level or no matter what chosen field the student will enter into.

“Arts makes the connections for all areas of studies and ties them all together. Without arts, we wouldn’t have the other curriculums. The arts sort of makes everything work and mesh all together,” Boyd said.

“The arts make a student a better, more well-rounded person,” she added.

Her sentiments were echoed by Chester County Superintendent Dr. Angela Bain, COLT Principal Dr. Tammy Graham and the conference’s keynote speaker, Carrie Ann Power, the Education associate for Visual and Performing Arts with the S.C. Department of Education.

Dr. Bain told the audience of educators that she grew up understanding the importance of the arts in a school curriculum.

“I am in the company of all arts teachers in the Olde English Consortium. I am among friends. My dad was a band director, chorus teacher and elementary music teacher. He was my teacher, so he taught me how to play a few instruments: I can play the trumpet, I can play the steel drums and I can play the ukulele. That is, I used to be able to play those instruments…”

“I love what you do for our children in all the districts. The arts have helped me in my life; they have helped a lot of children. We appreciate the fine arts in our curriculum,” Dr. Bain said.

COLT Principal Dr. Tammy Graham said the administration appreciated the fine arts teachers’ dedication to the arts. The fine arts are important, Dr. Graham said, because they give the students a better understanding of the world.

“It’s important for our children to not only be ELA, math, social studies and science students, but also to be arts students,” she said.

Carrie Ann Power with the SCDOE told the fine arts teachers the Olde English Consortium is a “model in the state as far as pulling together all the districts surrounding these counties so they can share professional development.

The SCDOE has been revising the curriculum standards for visual and performing arts. A total of 50 educators from across the state have revised the state standards. As of June, the new standards were approved. Because of that, it has been “boots on the ground” as far as professional learning opportunities for teachers, Power said. Some 177 arts educators across the state are enrolled in ongoing professional learning activities.

The shift in the new standards takes the emphasis on standards written for the teacher, to standards written for the learners, Power said. Sounds simple, but it’s a hard shift to make, Power admitted.

“This is the bridge year. Give yourself time to jump in, ask questions, get used to the vocabulary. There will be different levels and layers of understanding, as far as getting used to these new standards. If you just give yourself some time, it will all come together,” she promised.

The SCDOE awarded 83 arts curriculum grants, totaling up to a $1 million in schools and districts across the state. Teachers who write grant applications in the future will need to write them based on these new standards, Power said.

The teachers from the Consortium then broke into individual sessions, where their peers shared many different techniques and studies, in all areas of the fine arts, from a workshop on using a microwave kiln for glass fusing projects, to how-tos on sharing what’s happening in the classroom on iMovie, bucket drumming and arts integration through movement.