SPARK! for the Arts – Desiree Valentino
Inclusion through Arts
“During the school year of 2015-2016, I created a schoolwide art project for the Creative Pulse, a graduate program at the University of Montana. I created this project with the intention of promoting inclusive education and arts integration, as well as encouraging collaboration and friendship-making opportunities for my students with significant special needs. I am a special education teacher at Chief Charlo Elementary School, and I teach students needing extended resource supports. I have a background in inclusive education from the program with which I received my M.Ed., called TTEAM (Training Teachers to Ensure Achievement and Membership for Children and Youth with Low Incidence Disabilities), and a background in arts integration through the Creative Pulse, from where I received my M.A. in Fine Arts.
Inclusive Education means having all students learn in the general education setting, regardless of the range of differences or abilities. The benefits of inclusive education are numerous. It creates a diversity-enriched environment that allows students with disabilities to benefit from the same education as their nondisabled peers. It gives all students access to grade-level curriculum, and exposure to various learning styles and supports that could benefit an entire class. It helps teach acceptance of differences, appropriate interactions and behaviors in school, and offers all students the chance to interact with grade level peers. All students, even those with severe disabilities, enjoy experiencing the fun and exciting activities that take place in the general education setting, which cannot be replaced in a self-contained environment. Additionally, inclusive education helps make teachers better prepared to instruct to a diverse population with multiple academic levels and needs, and it promotes acceptance, awareness, and understanding throughout an entire school.
Arts integration in the classroom means incorporating the visual arts (painting, drawing, sculpting, printmaking, etc.) and performing arts (music, dance and drama) into lessons of various subject matter within the general education curriculum. The benefits of arts integration are also numerous. The arts are engaging, fun, and offer different means of expression. They provide a platform for the promotion of cooperative learning and inclusivity. Because there is no right way or wrong way to participate in the arts, they create an environment where everyone, regardless of ability or need, is equally able to contribute to their production. They enhance problem-solving skills, build self-confidence, promote pro-social behavior when working together on a common goal, and promote diversity of thought and perspective.
The project I created at my school as a schoolwide arts integration project, which involved the entire student body, the creation of two murals, and lessons on ability awareness and Glacial Lake Missoula. The ability awareness lesson consisted of teaching every grade level class how to interact with, accept, and better understand differences in ability and expression among their peers. The Glacial Lake Missoula lesson was a history lesson that incorporated dance, movement, performance, music, visual art, and collaboration as a way to promote arts integration and inclusive practices. The murals were a way to get every student in the school, including those who were in a self-contained classroom, the chance to join together and create art collaboratively as a community. This project was created with the hope of promoting inclusive practices in the general education setting, encouraging collaboration, integration and promoting the arts, generating friendship-making opportunities for all students, and creating an all accepting and inclusive school environment. Overall, I wanted to give my students the opportunity to have an exciting and fulfilling educational experience, in the general education setting, with their peers and school, while also demonstrating to the general education teachers how the arts and inclusive education could be incorporated into their lessons.
The outcome of this project resulted in the many typically developing students going out of their way to greet my students, more patience and understanding toward differences in the behavior and actions of their peers, a tremendous amount of smiles and laughs during the arts integration activities and painting of the murals, and several of my colleagues requesting future lessons and collaboration. Where I want to go from here is to inspire others to incorporate the arts into their lessons, change perspectives on what it means to teach to all students, and to promote acceptance and understanding of students with diverse needs in the general education classrooms. I want to inspire more positive interaction among my students with disabilities and their non-disabled peers, and to create experiences and friendship making opportunities for students who are still learning how to socialize with their peers. Through collaboration, arts integration, and inclusive practices, I believe all of this can be accomplished.” – Desiree Valentino