Cortland BOE discusses district’s art programs, summer plans

(Photo from The Cortland Voice's photo files).

The Cortland Enlarged City School District Board of Education (BOE) met recently to discuss the arts program and district plans for the summer and beyond.

The meeting began by taking a moment to recognize the poise and professionalism of the chaperones on the recent senior trip, who went above and beyond when two student health emergencies arose. The chaperones ensured the safety of all students and maintained clear communications with those back at home. The students were also commended for maintaining positive attitudes and making the best of the situation when travel plans were delayed.

The Cortland BOE is slated to meet at 6:30 p.m. this Tuesday.

Evolving Arts Education

The BOE heard a presentation from art teachers of the Smith Intermediate School and F.S. Barry Primary Schools, who explained recent and future updates to the program. The curriculum is based on New York State standards, and aligns programming from kindergarten through grade 12. Teachers attended state and national conferences to stay up to date on integrating social and emotional learning, and are moving from project-based to choice-based art education. This newer model allows students to focus on mediums and projects they personally enjoy while still applying the core lessons being taught.

By the Numbers

In a survey of students, 88.5% of the 113 6th-grade respondents reported having had a positive experience with art education in elementary school, while only 65.9% of the 258 7-12th graders reported the same positive experience. The remaining students either did not have a positive experience with art, or did not attend Cortland for elementary school. 

When asked what they enjoyed about art class, most students cited spending time with friends, stress relief, and being able to express themselves. Reported areas of interest ranged from animation and game design to ceramics, crafting, and jewelry-making. One thing to note from the results was that these interests remained fairly consistent across grade levels. 

Upping Arts Engagement

The teachers expanded on why they are leaving project-based work and expanding choice-based art education to all grade levels. Student engagement is “through the roof” when they have a choice in how to apply what they are learning. They also took what they learned from the student surveys and are working to change the course offerings in the Jr-Senior high school levels to integrate student interests in mediums such as animation and ceramics. 

Arts in the Junior High will see some changes in the form of workshop style programs for the 7th graders, and possible art electives for 8th grade students. Grade 8 currently has no art option due to scheduling conflicts with other required courses, but teachers hope an elective will give more students the chance to cover what is now a gap year in their arts education.  

In addition to updating their course offerings, the school also hopes to increase parent and community awareness of the program. The schools currently display artwork in the hallways every year, and each hold their own art shows. However, they hope to reach a wider audience by holding open houses, cross promoting at other school events such as concerts, and getting out into more community spaces. There will be a county wide art show resuming next year that Cortland is looking forward to participating in once again, and there is also interest in creating an “Art Walk” by partnering with local businesses downtown. 

Summer Programs and Projects

The BOE also heard about upcoming summer programming that will be offered at the school.  Tiger Academy summer school for K-5 students has already filled its 135 slots, but encourages parents to join the waitlist, as additional classes may be added as needed. Sign ups are open and filling up for several other programs, including: Tiger Camp, which helps transition 6th graders to 7th grade; Makerspace camp for grades 6-8; Girls camp for grades 7-9; Music Lesson camp; and Modern Band camp. Information and sign ups are available in the Cortland digital newsletter.

Other updates included the capital project being on track to begin planning for phase two, while simultaneously taking bids for phase one in the fall. The tennis court project is also underway, and projects at Randall are wrapping up, with the makerspace already being completed. Updates within the classroom will take place in the form of integrating co-teaching, and introducing it as a strategy to a broader range of grade levels.

The meeting concluded with Board members sharing some of their own end of the year highlights, which included attending the athletic booster club, boys soccer tournament, and a field days event at Randall Middle School. The field days featured human foosball, human hungry hippos, and even an impromptu track meet by the younger grades in which the high school athletes offered guidance and cheers.