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Empowering and inspiring young people through arts in education.

Arts for Learning Connecticut

This nonprofit uses the arts to teach and reach broader student learning outcomes for more than 100,000 students across the state of Connecticut each year. Stop & Shop has supported Arts for Learning Connecticut through the Community Bag Program.

Tell us about Arts for Learning Connecticut.

Arts for Learning Connecticut aims to inspire young people and expand their learning through the arts. We were founded in 1979, so we’ve been around for over 40 years. The start of our organization was bringing performances into schools and exposing young people to the arts.

Over time, we’ve become more and more of an educational organization. Today, we don’t just expose students to the arts; we use the arts to teach and help reach broader student learning outcomes.

Arts for Learning Connecticut has about 85 teaching artists that we work with. They span the creative spectrum from music to dance, spoken word, poetry, visual arts, theater and standup comedy. You name it, and we probably have an artist.

Since the beginning, Arts for Learning Connecticut has envisioned a statewide community where the arts are valued for their capacity to transform lives and where every student is immersed in opportunities to imagine, create and realize their full potential through the arts.

Today, we don’t just expose students to the arts; we use the arts to teach and help reach broader student learning outcomes.

What services do you provide to the community?

Arts learning programs are what we provide across the state of Connecticut. We think about this in a couple of different categories: performances in schools, in-class workshops where teaching artists work directly with students in a classroom and extended arts-integrated residencies. These extended programs entail teaching artists co-teaching with classroom teachers for a long time, allowing for real curriculum expansion. Then, we have opportunities for professional development for teachers and teaching artists across the state. We serve over 60% of towns across Connecticut, reaching more than 100,000 students a year.

What sets you apart from other nonprofits in your community?

Being the largest arts learning provider in the state sets us apart. We are the only organization that can provide the breadth and scope of programming that we do—bringing teaching artists from one part of the state to another and designing and implementing curricular, integrated and connected programs.

The other thing that makes us unique is the relationships we’ve created with hundreds of schools. Arts for Learning Connecticut is designed to be nimble and responsive, so we’re focusing on more than one school or district at a time. We can provide services wherever there’s a need throughout Connecticut. The size of our organization and roster of 85 teaching artists sets us apart from other arts-based organizations.

Tell us a story that illustrates the good work of your organization.

Recently, I visited a fifth-grade class at one of the elementary schools we partner with for programming. We run one of our most intensive programs there, Higher Order Thinking Schools (HOT Schools). In this program, we offer a variety of arts learning opportunities over the course of the year that are all focused on improving student engagement, enriching school culture and expanding teacher practice.

Through HOT Schools, I visited one of the arts-integrated residency programs. Two teaching artists in the classroom were working with the students, bringing together two different artistic backgrounds. One artist is a spoken word poet, and the other is a visual artist. They were having fifth-grade students work on effectively communicating about issues that matter to them. They were reading a short story and creating a shared visual artwork that brought the story to life. The exercise was about translating those reading and comprehension skills and then turning that into their version of a visual narrative.

At the same time, they were also working on speech writing and being able to master public speaking. The students in the classroom were getting motivated by Dr. Martin Luther King and his Blueprint for Your Life speech. This inspiration led to their work on developing persuasive speeches. By the end of class, the kids stood up and gave their speeches, and it was incredible to hear how diverse the speeches were. Some students talked about treating pets well; others talked about how to handle themselves after a breakup. Then, there were students discussing race and ethnicity and some powerful equality issues.

It is powerful to provide a program that speaks to each of these students individually and moves them along in their journey. It’s like, learning, firing on all cylinders. This was thrilling to watch. When the students supported each other as they gave their speeches, it helped them grow. Building a space in the classroom with a strong sense of community support allowed students to share.  

It is powerful to provide a program that speaks to each of these students individually and moves them along in their journey.

What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?

It’s hard to point to just one. Our programs reach over 100,000 students across the state each year, and the little bits of impact on all of them throughout the year are so fulfilling.

I’m proud that we also work with teachers. We’re providing standard professional development sessions and in-class experiences that are helping teachers find new ways to engage students. Teachers have the most challenging jobs, and it’s gratifying when we can offer them support to view their work differently or learn arts integration tools. You don’t have to be a professional artist to use the arts in your classroom. There are so many ways to engage with students. Arts for Learning Connecticut is proud of this work.

During the pandemic, we worked hard to keep students, teachers and teaching artists engaged during a difficult time. Our organization has provided many virtual learning programs. We aim to find ways to support our community and the teaching artists. These are successes that we are very proud of accomplishing.

What do you want people to know about your organization?

We are designed to catalyze all the excellent work happening in schools already. We don’t see ourselves as coming in and solving any of the problems. We know that schools, teachers, administrators, community members, family members and everyone you know have many challenges they’re up against. Arts for Learning is working hard to help build a community where students can self-express, feel joy, have passion and be artistic through creative experiences. The teaching artists and all these different programs we offer have catalyzed the learning in these spaces. So, we see ourselves as something that can come in and make for a unique experience and then leave behind some tools and experiences that will help shift the culture in the future.

We want people to know that we’re efficient programs working in schools. The variety of programs that we offer is diverse culturally and artistically. It could be a year-long, after-school residency or a summer program working with students experiencing learning loss. We have a wide variety, all tailored to the unique needs of any given school or community.

How will you use the funds raised from the Stop & Shop Community Bag Program?

One of the awesome things about the Stop & Shop Community Bag Program is that it supports our general operating budget at Arts for Learning Connecticut. Whereas a lot of our fundraising is often targeted to specific communities and specific programs, with these donations, we get to choose where in the organization the funds are needed the most.

We have an efficient team of five here, but still significant overhead to run our organization and make it work. These kinds of donations make it possible for our staff to do the work that we do. Our team is grateful to participate in the Stop & Shop Community Bag Program.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

A big “thank you” to the Stop & Shop Community Bag Program. It’s especially exciting to see our growth. We’ve been grateful to be a part of the program for a couple of years, and this last year was such a success. This program helps show that the community cares about making an impact by supporting nonprofits. The fact that Arts for Learning resonates with people is inspiring and encouraging. We appreciate all the work Stop & Shop does to run this beneficial program.

John-Michael Parker is Executive Director of Arts for Learning Connecticut. He joined the organization in 2019.

Published December 7, 2022.