2008-10-03 / Community

Schools receive grant to incorporate drama into curriculum

By Sylvie Belmond belmond@theacorn.com

A $999,000 grant, awarded to the Moorpark Unified School District by the U.S. Department of Education recently, will boost creativity and enhance learning skills in local elementary classrooms.

The district and California Lutheran University will work together to create a model program where teachers utilize drama techniques as a teaching strategy in all subject areas.

Funds from the Project ACT (Active, Collaborative Teaching grant) will be used over the next four years to implement and run the program at all six elementary schools in the district.

"The district's vision is to provide a quality education for all," said MUSD project director Nema Pierce.

Moorpark sought the grant because school leaders and teachers want to keep up with the latest educational research and incorporate this information to help every child master his or her curriculum, she said.

CLU professors Michael McCambridge and Michael Cosenza will provide individualized coaching to teachers, who in turn will become trainers for their colleagues in the district.

The grant money will help to test the ACT Project model, McCambridge said. "Everything we've learned through research and experience tells us that this will increase student academic success."

Brain research shows that people learn better when they're doing active things. "So using dramatic games and strategies provides a more active kind of classroom where kids stand up, move around the room and do things in groups," said McCambridge.

The CLU professor will start to work with a small group of Moorpark teachers this month to show them how to incorporate dramatic teaching strategies into the every day lesson plans in all subject matters.

Pierce, who has worked for the last decade as an arts specialist at Walnut Canyon Elementary School, an arts and technology magnet school, is organizing a kickoff for the program on Oct.15.

About six to 10 teacher representatives will work as a collaborative team, sharing ideas and lessons and receiving more training from McCambridge. They will then share the information with other teachers at their school site, said Pierce.

"We are not adding another program, but rather adding more techniques and strategies to help all our students be successful in all areas of study," she said.

Teachers will be equipped to create lessons that engage students.

CLU educational interns will also be working alongside teachers. They will be trained in the same active learning techniques as the teachers, and provide assistance during lessons.

McCambridge and Cosenza hope to demonstrate the teaching method to all elementary school teachers as well. Over time, teachers and students in higher grades will also benefit from the ACT Project, McCambridge said.

The district will partner with CLU to host a series of summer institutes for teachers in all elementary schools. The training will focus on using process drama, a style of teaching where teachers and students explore ideas or themes through unscripted acting.

Another component of the grant brings live theater to all elementary students within the district. CLU theatre arts professor Michael Arndt and the Kingsmen Shakespeare Company in residence on the CLU campus will take the group's Shakespeare Educational Tour to the schools each year under the grant's funding.

All the programs sponsored by the new grant will employ arts instruction throughout Moorpark's elementary curriculum, according to school officials.

The professional development collaboration between CLU and the district isn't new.

The district received another $938,000 from the U.S. Department of Education grant, for the Teaching American History program. This program is administered in partnership with CLU and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum to enhance history lessons for local students.

Marylyn Green, who writes the grant requests for Moorpark Unified, said the district is successful at obtaining these extra funds because she applies and purses many grant options.

"With less funding coming from the state it's been wonderful to have some extra money to do creative things. The major elements of successful grant writing, is following directions," Green said.

The district implemented a similar pilot program that puts student teachers from CLU to work in the classroom with professional educators at Flory Academy in downtown Moorpark. It was started last year and is continuing because it has been a success, local educators said.

A component of the grant, said Pierce, is to share the information learned over the next one to two years with other school districts in the region that may be interested to integrate the arts into the curriculum programs.

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