Students in Widefield School District 3 were bright with new backpacks, lunchboxes, shirts and shoes as they arrived on campus Aug. 15 for the start of the 2019-2020 school year.
At Widefield Elementary School of the Arts, a new innovation waiver from the Colorado Department of Education is providing new, unique learning opportunities to the kids they serve.
The innovation waiver allows the school greater autonomy and flexibility to implement diverse approaches to learning. With greater control over student evaluation, educational programming, and personnel selection, school leaders are bringing new avenues of learning for the new year.
“We are one of only two or three public schools in the state to have a full-time elementary drama teacher,” said Dawn Hunke, principal. “We’re adding 30 more minutes in the arts throughout the curriculum this year as we integrate the arts throughout the students’ day,”
“Drama is cross-curricular,” said Andie Alvarado, drama teacher. “In kindergarten it’s a lot of play-based learning, but as they get older it’s a lot of questioning and critiquing skills.”
“My job is to support the classroom teachers,” Alvarado said. “Drama helps to create empathy and a kinder society, but their reading skills and math, science and social studies do too.”
“Art has content connections for every subject,” said Katie Whatley, art teacher. “Through our innovation status we are bringing art and music through the whole curriculum. It’s something the kids can enjoy and look forward to.”
“Kids can make better connections off of things they are doing in our classes,” said Patricia Bessick, music teacher. “If we’re focusing on rhythms or certain types of notes, they can say, ‘oh, we learned about that in this other class, I understand how they connect now.'”
The focus on arts is even supported on the playground through a recent school bond passed by voters in the district, as six new musical instrument engagement pieces surround the traditional playground.
“We got the idea when we were on a trip to Arizona and we saw musical instruments spread over the sidewalk,” said Abbie O’Rourke, fifth-grader.
Abbie brought the idea to a committee she served on during the previous school year as a student representative. The committee, including teachers and administrators, was charged with using a portion of new bond funding to enhance student experience while supporting the educational thread of the school.
“Our community makes Widefield a special place,” said Scott Campbell, superintendent. “Our ability through our bond and mill levy override to provide some special opportunities for kids is really what we’re all about.”
“We’ve asked our schools to look at some of the opportunities they’re providing for kids and find a way to make it unique to their community and provide parents with some real choice,” said Campbell.
“We want to make sure that each school community has the opportunity to choose the best method for their child to learn.”