Bridging the Gap Between Education and Culture Through Art

Bridging the Gap Between Education and Culture Through Art

Neil Armstrong Elementary provides families opportunities for creative bonding with their children. 

By Mariah Gonzalez 

In November 2020, A&M-SA professors Dr. Karen Burgard, Dr. Elisabeth Krimbill, Dr. Katherine Espinoza, Dr. Kimberly Stephenson, Dr. Karen Kohler, Dr. Melissa Jozwiak and Justin Korver were awarded the CULTIVAR grant, a $3.35 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to be used over a five-year period for quality arts education experiences for students from underserved populations.  

Krimbill, a former elementary principal, noticed students in lower socio-economic areas often had their weaknesses addressed instead of recognizing and playing to their strengths. “The CULTIVAR grant is an issue of equity in my experience. We saw this as an opportunity to address the inequities that we see in the world. All students deserve the opportunity to learn and express themselves in a space that is respectful,” said Krimbill. 

Through the ASPIRE Network, students can celebrate their culture and express personal identity through art. Burgard, a former high school teacher, and her team recognized that students are experiencing an education gap when it comes to connecting to culture and how they can use expressive creativity, such as art, as a learning tool inside the classroom. CULTIVAR, rooted in the Latinx community, focuses on creative expressions and aspirations for the Latinx community and other minorities.  CULTIVAR focuses on students expressing their creativity with firsthand art experiences in schools throughout San Antonio. CULTIVAR further elevates Latinx culture and amplifies Latinx voices in the community by starting with elementary schools and families. 

“Students are creative and naturally curious. They want to learn and create! I think that a focus on individual expression of learning and self-reflection will help our students to achieve in a way that is previously undocumented,” stated Krimbill.

By partnering with the Tobin Center, teachers and students can work one on one with community artists in the classroom and in professional development. Dr. Kimberly Stephenson, the Tobin Center’s director of education, assists in overseeing the CULTIVAR program and professional development for teachers. Stephenson described professional development as hands on learning. Teachers are trained by artists on how to implement creative learning in the classroom.  

“The highest order in Blooms Taxonomy is ‘create.’ If this is true for students, then for teachers the highest order of professional development is creative teaching,” said Stephenson. 

Students making art
Students at Neil Armstrong Elementary create art during CULTIVAR’s first Convivio celebration of the year.

Ismael Casanova a third-grade teacher at Neil Armstrong Elementary volunteered to help run the program when it was first introduced to the school. Casanova reflected on the impact of CULTIVAR and how it has made it second nature for the students to jump into activities that they find enjoyable and that encourage learning. 

“Through the arts, we are able to have the students be engaged by giving them creative and enjoyable artistic activities they have not experienced before. It also gives the teachers and staff opportunities to diversify, modify and encourage students with these artistic activities in a less stressful learning environment. This is critical for students who are not on grade level or who have learning disabilities,” remarked Casanova. 

“Students come and go, but when you professionally develop teachers, you impact thousands. You can change entire communities. That is the power of CULTIVAR,” said Stephenson. 

– Dr. Kimberly Stephenson

CULTIVAR hosts quarterly Convivio celebrations at Neil Armstrong Elementary, where more than 200 families have already been positively impacted by CULTIVAR. In January of this year, CULTIVAR had its first Convivio Night of the year welcoming the lunar new year, along with a performance by the San Antonio Lion Dance Association.  

Attendees experienced activities focused on connecting students and families, who are part of ethnic minorities, to their culture, giving parents an opportunity to strengthen their relationship with the child and their academics. 

“Students come and go, but when you professionally develop teachers, you impact thousands. You can change entire communities. That is the power of CULTIVAR,” said Stephenson. 

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