Children's books are helping many Georgia kindergartners plunge into the world of performing arts and, more importantly, helping students in five of Atlanta's lowest income schools improve their learning skills.
"A significant number of the nation's low-income children enter school lacking the skills necessary to learn at the appropriate grade level, despite having all the intellectual abilities they need," says Ann Kruger, associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and Special Education. "Studies suggest the problem is vocabulary because poor children show up the first day of school with a fraction of the vocabulary that middle-income and affluent kids have."
The U.S. Department of Education awarded the Alliance Theatre and Fulton County Schools $809,000 to expand and research a model program in arts education. The Wolf Trap Institute, which provides arts education for children ages 3 to 5, began providing training for teachers in Fulton County Schools, while researchers in Georgia State University's College of Education measure the effectiveness of the model for teacher professional learning and student achievement.
During a three-year period, the Georgia Wolf Trap Institute will serve approximately 1,120 students in Fulton County. Each student will take part in at least 13 classroom drama experiences with a teaching artist and attend a play at the Alliance Theatre. Teachers present a story that they use to teach about setting, characters, and a beginning, middle and end. The children also make up their own stories with props or change old stories, like Jack and the Beanstalk.
Last year, the first year of analysis, 74 students who did not participate in the Wolf Trap program remained at the same level based on before-and-after standardized tests, while 112 students who participated in the eight-week program improved significantly in oral vocabulary, attendance and understanding emotional expressions.
"This is a very child-friendly way of learning because it takes advantage of a young kindergartener's strength, which is pretend play," Kruger says. "We're hopeful the effects will be greater as the teachers improve and learn more challenging ways of integrating drama in their classrooms."