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Arts integration program recognized with 2019 Magna award

Cast members during student assembly The Gates Chili Central School District has been awarded the 2019 Magna Award for equity in education by the National School Boards Association (NSBA). The ARTS Partners program was identified as an exemplar for removing barriers to achievement for vulnerable or underserved children. The award was presented at the NSBA Annual Conference in March.


ARTS Partners stands for Arts Reaching and Teaching in School and is a partnership between the Rochester Broadway Theatre League (RBTL) and GCCSD. The program integrates theater, music, arts, dance and visual media into curriculum across all subject areas, while meeting all major core standards.


Gates Chili Arts Integration Teacher Holly Valentine’s vision has been to “bring the theater to the classroom and the classroom to the theater.” Over the past three years, Valentine has worked to implement theater-based curriculum into classrooms, translating major themes from RBTL productions into lessons for students of varying grade levels.


“Our brain can’t develop in isolation. It requires constant dialogue and an environment filled with textures and sounds and colors. That’s what the arts can do,” said Valentine, who also serves as the RBTL director of education.


During the 2017-18 school year, the program reached nearly 60% of Gates Chili students with 64% of those students attending a performance. Almost half of the students had a family member attend with them.


students attending rent

The Story of Tonight


The program’s impact elevates when real-world interactions develop. Students have written letters to cast members, video chatted with performers, attended assemblies featuring the production talent and, ultimately, witnessed it all come together during a live performance.


“This is a first-time experience for many of our students and it goes back to the idea of removing barriers,” said Valentine. “Listening to the reaction of students at the theater is an experience unlike any other.”


Thousands of theater-goers also experience the students’ work when it is on display at the Auditorium Theater.


Defying Gravity

student working

Art exposure is only one piece of the ARTS Partners program. Students are engaged and excited about what they are learning, discussing activities beyond the school day. They are motivated to put in the necessary work, often needing to be reminded to take a break. Most notably, their academic progress is impacted profoundly.


Before this was a district initiative, Valentine delivered curriculum to her students in a similar way and tracked their progress.


“Each September, I was receiving classes with 30-35% of the students reading at or above grade level. In June, consistently 98-100% of them were at or above grade level,” said Valentine. “I am absolutely convinced it was because of this work that was going on in the classroom.”


Teachers have commented about the program’s impact on student learning and the abilities that are being uncovered through the curriculum. The program allows students who learn differently to flourish in non-traditional learning activities such as lyric analysis.


Beyond the academics, the program is shaping students’ character and how they interact with each other.


“I think the biggest impact of this program is the social-emotional benefits,” said Valentine. “Theater and the arts teach us empathy and fairness. They promote flexible thinking and problem solving. Theys increase our resiliency, and help us to be able to change.”


Building administrators notice the participating students’ high engagement and minimal disciplinary incidents.


Something Wonderful

 students at theater

RBTL’s mission is “to provide opportunities for all people to experience, understand and enjoy the best in arts and performance through its education programs, events and activities.” The ARTS Partners program is the league’s largest, most comprehensive and all-encompassing education program.


“We truly believe in the ability of live theatrical experiences to enrich people’s lives and the sooner you do that, the more likely it is that the enrichment continues as they age and become young adults,” said RBTL Executive Vice President Linda Glosser.


“Before we got into this, we really never dreamed that we would have an administration that was so fully committed to bringing theater into the classroom and the classrooms to the theater,” added Glosser.


For Forever

 students before show at theater

Valentine is already working towards developing next year’s curriculum. With the recent announcement of the 2019-20 RBTL season, Valentine has already set her sights on five productions.


“Come from Away” is based on a true story and provides students a look at kindness and paying it forward amidst cultural differences. “The Lion King” touches on the circle of life, friendship and responsibility. “Anastasia” puts family and overcoming obstacles to the forefront. “Cats” brings alive poetry and language along with hope and courage. “Dear Evan Hansen” speaks to the important topics of bullying, social media and self-image.


These are just bits of the themes that Valentine will integrate into curriculum, in addition to the coordinating literature pieces, real-world interactions and memorable theatrical experiences.