Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Cultural groups reach out to expand kids' knowledge

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Ashley Roberts, 17, of Norwood, is taking a level V/VI advanced ballet class at the Otto M. Budig Academy of Cincinnati Ballet.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
From multimillion-dollar education centers to distance-learning initiatives, museums and fine arts organizations in the Tristate are providing students and teachers with more learning opportunities than ever.

The expanded education programs mean those organizations are filling a void for thousands of Tristate kids at a time when funding cuts threaten art and other programs at schools.

A major goal of the outreach is to make art more accessible to more people - right down to pre-schoolers. Much of the emphasis is linked to standards that departments of education in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana expect kids to learn.

"This is not just a field trip anymore," said Ted Lind, curator of education at Cincinnati Art Museum. "It's discovery learning. It enhances textbook learning."

Museums across the nation spent more than $1 billion in 2000-01 on education outreach and more than 18 million instructional hours on programming for students in grades K-12. Since 1996, the percentage of operating budget money that museums spend on education programming has increased fourfold nationally, according to the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Local museum and fine arts officials say that even when money is tight, they try to avoid cutting education-outreach programs.

The Cincinnati Art Museum in Walnut Hills is remodeling its former cafe into a 6,000-square-foot Education Center. An art studio is already open for summer arts programs. Lind describes the education center as a "portal" for visitors to the museum, particularly those with young children so they can get oriented to the museum.

By October, the center will offer tips on going through the museum, books, touchable materials and some art reproductions, like 19th-century clothing that kids can try on.

The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden is building an $8 million 32,000-square-foot education center that will have a 300-seat auditorium. Ground may be broken by year's end, said Dave Jenike, director of education.

But the cornerstones of education outreach are the programs in the schools.

Growing ballet program

The Cincinnati Ballet reaches around 10,000 children a year through school programs, such as demonstrations where kids get to test out the bar and watch dancers perform. The outreach program grows by at least 2,000 students a year, said Sharon King, education and outreach manager.

Three years ago the Otto M. Budig Academy of Cincinnati Ballet started a program in which the academy sends a ballet instructor to an inner-city school once a week. The program is funded through grant allocations from private foundations.

Students receive ballet shoes and study classical ballet for a year free. The program has since expanded to three high-poverty schools: Parham Elementary, W.E.B. DuBois Academy and Christ Emmanuel Christian Academy.

Several students from each program receive scholarships to join the academy and study on a full-time basis during the summer, said Elizabeth Norment, the academy's administrator.

"This exposes students to ballet who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity," she said. "It allows them another outlet to express themselves."

"I love it," said Walnut Hills High School student Ashley Roberts, 17, a ballet student at the academy who received a full scholarship when she was 10. "I don't think I want to do it professionally, but I do want to continue to take classes. I find it to be a nice stress reliever when you get to dance."

This fall, the zoo is adding an ocelot conservation education program to its vast array of outreach programs.

The ocelot program will show how science is used to save species by using the zoo's ocelot, which had been a frozen embryo before it was transferred to the Cincinnati Zoo and born here.

The Taft Museum of Art expected to reach 500 students in its outreach programs last year but instead reached 1,726, said Abby Schwartz, curator of education. Volunteer docents take oil paints, brushes, copper and art reproductions to the schools.

The visits to schools reach kids who can't afford the bus fare to get there and reach classes that don't have as many field trip options, Schwartz said.

Covington Independent Schools benefit from performing arts experiences offered to elementary students through the Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center in Covington. This school year, the program is expanding to all elementary students.

Art Links, an umbrella organization that works to bring learning through the arts to more than 35,000 Greater Cincinnati children every year, launched a program to adopt 12 schools in 1996. Artists have a two-year residency in the schools.

This school year the program has expanded to include 51 low-income schools. The program is paid for by grants, gift and personal donations.

"Everyone should be able to experience the arts," said executive director Linda Tresvant.

Technology delivers

Officials are also finding other ways to reach students who can't make it to their facilities. Distance learning allows museum officials to beam the latest technology into classrooms.

This fall, Cincinnati Art Museum is launching a pilot program for distance learning in which schools schedule hour-long interactive video-conferencing with museum officials. Students will view artifacts and works of art before discussing them with the museum experts. "If they have some kind of preparatory discussion about the works of art they're going to see before they come to the museum, it's ideal," Lind said. "When they get here, it's reinforcing the learning. It can also be used as a post-visit discussion to kind of wrap things up."

The zoo's distance-learning attendance has climbed from 7,106 in 2000 to 8,025 in 2002.

Museums also are offering more opportunities for teachers.

Zoo experts will assist Cincinnati Public Schools teachers with new science kits. The zoo officials and other environmental organizations will offer content expertise on subjects like those dealing with organisms and animals.

Museum officials say they are not trying to replace teachers but instead are trying to enhance the learning students receive at school, especially when arts and other funding has been cut.

"Ideally, we want there to be arts education in every school curriculum," Schwartz said. "But the reality is that in many school systems, arts are the first thing to go. We think museums have an obligation to fill that void."

Museum school for teachers

The Cincinnati Art Museum is offering a free four-day summer institute Aug. 4-7 for about 150 educators, including experts from around the country. The training, which focuses on ways to integrate the resources of the museum into curriculum-based instruction, will feature the recently opened Cincinnati Wing.

The museum is still looking for participants.

For information, call 721-2787.


E-mail jmrozowski@enquirer.com

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