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Three senior education majors set to graduate from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh on Saturday, Dec. 19 will take lessons learned from an ArtsCore internship with the Winnebago Area Literacy Council (WALC) into the classroom as they embark on their teaching careers.

Carolyn Kendall, of Appleton; Jessica Martinez, of Waukesha; and Selena Xiong, of Appleton, all served as ArtsCore interns with WALC’s New Voices summer program for immigrant and refugee English learners.

ArtsCore, a partnership between UWO, the Paine Art Center and Gardens and regional public school districts, supports pre-service and early career teachers in their efforts to teach in and through the arts.

Donna Nelson

“The interns were hired to co-teach classes to middle and high school English learners from area school districts and focused on arts integration activities to provide speaking and writing language development, self-expression and interview skills,” said Donna Nelson, ArtsCore director.

Research shows infusing the arts into curriculum can increase engagement for students as well as grow their cognitive and social skills and raise their standardized test scores. The practice also can reenergize teachers and transform the school environment, Nelson said.

Xiong said the interns worked together to incorporate some form of art into lesson plans each day. One project involved the students creating and reading poems that then were transformed into a video.

Kendall said it was fun to watch the students form friendships as they practiced new skills throughout the summer.

“We planned and implemented arts integrated activities that helped support ESL skills in reading, writing, speaking and listening. The students learned about American norms and customs, and as interns, we learned about their native norms and customs as well,” she said.

“Many of these young students have more life experience than some adults do here in America. Every one of those students amazed me by how motivated they were to learn the English language and an American way of life.”

Since the classes took place during the pandemic, all of the lessons and activities took place outside.

“I would definitely say that I now have experience teaching instructions outside and have students be able to follow through with what I am asking them to do,” Xiong said.

For Martinez, the experience brought out her love for languages, learning and art.

“So often with language learners, the focus is on what they could be lacking or what they could be missing,” she said. “In our classroom, even the most shy and quiet students were able to share about themselves, their cultures, their languages or their experiences in different art forms. Spoken word, written poetry or stories, artwork on paper or in chalk on the sidewalk, singing and dancing.”

Tapping into her own passion for photography was her favorite part of the experience.

“Seeing those pictures printed in a book and being shared with community members really made me happy to know that future programs could be modeled after ours,” Martinez said.

In the end, the student interns became the “heart” of the New Voices program, said Julia Frascona, WALC education director.

“I cannot say enough about the UWO ArtsCore students who led this summer program. They have lifted New Voices to a level of engagement and relevance we had always hoped for. Integrating the arts has allowed many of our teens to fully participate and engage on a personal level and to tell their stories through the arts where English language barriers had stifled self-expression.”

Following commencement, the three new UWO grads will be looking to take on substitute teaching jobs for the spring as they seek full-time positions for fall 2021.

Kendall has accepted a long-term substitute teaching position as the 4K virtual teacher with the Kimberly Area School District.

“I love being a part of ArtCore,” she said. “My membership will continue even after graduation. I have a strong interest in arts integration, and I look forward to advocating for it in my school district.”

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