Putting arts centre stage in the class
Programme is about empowering pupils to be creative by giving schools the tools to design their own projects
School's out for summer, but come September, students in 150 schools across the country are in for a welcome surprise that's set to bring creativity into the heart of the classroom.
From Donegal to Dublin, Kerry to Cavan and all counties in between, the chosen schools have been selected to pilot the new Creative Schools programme, one that's designed to foster innovation and creative thinking by putting the arts at the core of education for children of all ages.
Led by the Arts Council in partnership with the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the initiative is not about producing more artists, but about "making us more creative as a people".
That's according to Arts Council director Orlaith McBride, who says that attending arts-rich schools can be of huge benefit to students by helping them to understand the world in a different way.
"Creative Schools is a transformative programme that will unlock the creativity in every child and empower them for life," she says.
She quotes a 2016 ESRI report, 'Growing Up in Ireland', which found that by age 13, children who had participated in artistic and cultural activities like drama, reading, singing, dance and painting had better academic and social skills and less anxiety than those who had not.
"The data proves that getting children to engage with the arts at as early an age as possible improves their cognitive, social, personal and intellectual development," she says. "It improves their understanding of the world and their place in it. They carry that with them into adult life, making them more rounded, empathetic human beings.
"Creativity is also firmly on the wellbeing agenda. It helps young people's sense of themselves as they struggle through adolescence, giving them the support they need in making the transition from childhood to adulthood."
One weakness identified in the report is that in the pre-teen years, kids' engagement with music, drama and other pursuits often tends to wane.
This is of concern, because experience shows that if children don't take up an arts subject in secondary school, they may have little or no engagement with the arts outside the school gates.
So one challenge was to find new ways to bring arts into the classroom that wasn't about taking up a subject for an exam.
Another aim, in line with Pillar One of Creative Ireland - "enabling the creative potential of every child" - was how to provide access to the arts for all children, not just those whose parents can afford to send their kids to piano lessons, or who happen to live close to a theatre.
"School is the best way to reach all the children equally, and we're thrilled that almost 400 schools applied to take part in the pilot initiative," says Ms McBride.
"Every county is represented, and every type of school - primary, secondary, Irish language, special needs, Deis, Youthreach… we've got them all."
While budget restrictions limited the pilot to 150 schools, she says the plan is to scale it up year on year, rolling it out across the entire country until "no matter where they live or what their economic background, children will receive the highest quality of artistic experience throughout school life".
What that experience will be is not prescribed by the Arts Council or government departments. Instead, individual schools will design their own unique programme based on the needs and interests of their students.
"It's very important that it's not us imposing on schools what we think an arts programme should be," she says. "The schools involved play to their own strengths and those of the community around them, whether that's drama, visual arts, garage bands, coding, robotics, dance, or anything else that engages young people there.
"It's a collaborative process. We provide an infrastructure to support the schools in creating a strong connection with the arts for their students, but it's their journey."
Each participating school will have its own "creative associate" who will spend one day training at the Arts Council, and nine days during the 2018-19 academic year supporting the school.
Half of the creative associates appointed to date are artists, and half are teachers with an interest in the arts.
The latter will leave the classroom and substitute teachers take their place on the days when they're working on the Creative Schools programme.
A one-off grant of €2,000 is also being made available to participating schools to help develop creative projects.
"It's not a huge amount, but it's seed money that will help to tap into local resources and bring arts practices into the school setting," says Ms McBride.
"Every town and village in Ireland has an artistic, creative community, and on a national level there are many organisations already working in this space - youth drama groups, children's festivals, choirs, the National Youth Orchestra, National Youth Theatre and lots more - where children can express themselves artistically in an out-of-school context.
"A key part of the Creative Schools programme is to harness such resources and bring those external activities into the classroom.
"We'll help schools create synergies with local and national artists and arts organisations. Artists will come into the schools and students will go out and experience music, dance, visual arts, heritage and other creative pursuits. The arts will become a seamless experience for young people.
"The programme is driven by the schools, and the voice of the children is central to everything. They define their own creativity based on what's important to them. We chose as wide and inclusive a mix of schools and demographics as possible for the pilot programme, which will run for 24 months, and it will be fascinating to see what we all learn during this time."
She says that some of the schools that applied indicated specific projects they wanted to create, like a mural, a sculpture, or a piece of theatre.
Some said they'd like to develop their existing arts curriculum in music, art or drama, while others want to bring arts into non-arts subjects like history or geography.
"The response from schools was astonishing," she says.
"Principals and teachers embracing change and there's a great sense of wanting to liberate themselves from always doing things in the same old way.
"We can have enormous pride and confidence in our schools and the determination of both educators and artists in enriching the lives of young people through the Creative Schools programme. We're super excited about it."
COUNTRYWIDE: What's happening in your area?
Glór Theatre, Ennis
Willow Wood brings children aged three to five on an interactive journey of storytelling through musical play and song in English and Irish, at 10.30am and again at noon. From 12 to 3.30pm, guests are invited to drop in and play piano for fun as part of a music marathon, and at 3.30pm there will be a screening of Ken Waldrop’s ‘Making the Grade,’ a documentary about Irish piano students and their teachers, for nine- to 12-year-olds.
Cultúrlann Sweeney, Kilkee
A rap workshop for teenagers runs in conjunction with Music Generation Limerick at 10.30am, and at 7.30pm there’s a magic show for all ages.
Burren College of Art, Ballyvaughan
There’s a Mandala-making session, and midsummer crafts, in which participants can make their own Burren flower fairy or a summer solstice lantern. All ages.
Courthouse Gallery, Ennistymon
Junk Jewellery workshop shows five- to 12-year-olds how to transform recycled plastic necklaces into tinfoil tiaras.
Painting with Plants workshop showing kids aged seven and over how to paint using plants, vegetables and spices.
In ‘The Biggest Draw Ever’ on John Robert Square, children of all ages can draw in giant colouring books, learn circus skills and magic tricks. Running from 1pm to 4pm, it includes magic show at 1pm, 2pm and 3pm, a Mad Scientist Exhibition at 2.30pm and a Punch and Judy Puppet Show at 3.30pm.
A Mosaic Trail on O’Connell Street
A colourful community artwork for all ages in the Cultural Quarter. Materials provided, but participants are encouraged to bring along a marble, shell, stone or button to add to the mosaic.
Teddy Bear Storytime and Sleepover
4pm on Friday, June 22
Children up to eight years are invited to bring their favourite toy to Ardkeen Library for storytime, and leave the toy overnight for a sleepover. When they collect them on Saturday, June 23, there will be photos of what all the teddies and other toys got up to overnight when the lights went out.
Drawing the Past, Then and Now workshop for 10- to 14-year-olds.