A Beaver County first: Neighborhood North Museum of Play to anchor arts-integrated programming
BEAVER FALLS, Pa. — You don’t have to travel all the way to Pittsburgh to find art. Beaver County and the surrounding regions are bursting with hopeful artists and creators awaiting an opportunity to expand their creative reach.
What Beaver County is lacking, however, is a commitment to arts-integration in our education system. Creativity can often be siloed, instead of seeing art as a vehicle for critical thinking, collaboration, ingenuity and increased comprehension.
Neighborhood North Museum of Play is hoping to change that narrative in Beaver County.
The Beaver Falls-based Museum, the first children’s museum in Beaver County, recognizes that kids learn better when the arts are integrated into school subjects rather than primarily being an independent study or elective course.
“Studies show kids learn better through the arts,” Christine Kroger, executive director of Neighborhood North Museum of Play, said.
The arts — from painting and poetry to theater and music and everything in between — provide opportunities for exploration and playfulness, and they give students hands-on experiences that make learning more memorable, creative and fun.
According to the Kennedy Center, “Arts Integration is an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process which connects an art form and another subject area and meets evolving objectives in both."
“Research shows that arts integration practices foster deep learning of core academic content, as well as arts processes, encourage collaboration and creative problem solving, build social emotional learning, and improve the learning climate, among many other benefits. Many educators desire this, but time and funding can be barriers, which is why teaching artist residencies can be valuable supplements to schools and community programs,” Kroger said.
Through a $35,000 grant from The Heinz Endowments, Neighborhood North is pioneering arts-integrated programming in Beaver County.
Central to this programming is to create a demand for arts education and “teaching artists” in schools and youth-serving out-of-school programs in Beaver County. The museum plans to attract Beaver County practicing artists and students to training events, which will allow artists to recognize that being a “teaching artist” is a viable career path and seek additional training to do so.
Neighborhood North’s program will be an iteration of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Arts Education program, which places certified “teaching artists” in schools, libraries, and other community settings to work alongside educators and students to “explore curriculum content through integrated art strategies,” according to the Trust’s Art Education informational video.
Through The Heinz Endowments grant, Neighborhood North will act as an anchor in the county for equipping these artists for a pilot year.
According to Liz Foster-Shaner, PhD, Director of Arts Education at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, “Teaching Artists are practicing, professional artists with experience and training in education. They pass along their passion for the arts by developing one-of-a-kind learning experiences and opportunities for creative expression. A residency with a teaching artist exposes students to new art forms and emphasizes the importance of creative risk-taking and critical thinking as they integrate artistic skills and techniques into other curricular areas, such as dance and physics or music and math. Perhaps most importantly, a residency with a teaching artist brings another caring, compassionate, and creative adult into the school and community environment who can support and nurture the dreams and curiosities of young people.”
The Trust will partner with Neighborhood North to spearhead a teaching artist program in Beaver County. Artists of all kinds can become certified “teaching artists,” regardless of educational background and experience.
“Our desire is to open up a pathway to the teaching arts for artists here in Beaver County. We recognize that not every artist will be interested or equipped to become a teaching artist, but for those who are, we believe that it will benefit both the artists and the learning community,” Kroger said. “One of the gifted teaching artists we work with is a professional drummer with a degree in biology. Through professional training, he has been able to adapt those skills to the classroom environment to teach syncopation, patterns, rhyming, and math skills through his craft. These types of skills are translated to artists practicing in nearly any discipline.”
Beaver County already has a growing arts collaborative through organizations like The Genesis Collective and the Portobello Cultural Life & Arts Center’s on-ramp project, the Baby Bello. Both organizations work to support and connect creatives and the community throughout the county and will be integral partners in galvanizing this commitment to arts-integration in the county’s education system, and beyond.
Think of Neighborhood North’s arts-integrated programming as a way to learn about the solar system, chemistry, or mathematics but rather than primarily reading from a textbook and memorizing vocabulary, students might use theater or poetry to better understand how the solar system works, or to process math and science equations.
It’s exploratory. And the students won’t get it right the first time — which is the point.
This sort of programming is designed to be iterative. A major component of the learning process is working through the content in real time, and sometimes even with their bodies, which can be exceptionally transformative for kinesthetic learners.
“Because this type of co-creative process requires students to interact and grapple with material as they question, play, and create with peers, learning can become a really rich experience,” Kroger said. “As learners are engaged through multiple senses and as they must try multiple paths to success, content is more likely to not only be retained but to be connected to other areas later on, enhancing the learning experience.”
Big Beaver Falls school districts committed to Neighborhood North’s “teaching artist” program for a pilot year with the Cultural Trust in 2022-23 with positive outcomes.
The Heinz Endowments is “devoted to the mission of helping our region prosper as a vibrant center of creativity, learning, and social, economic and environmental sustainability. Core to our work is the vision of a just community where all are included and where everyone who calls this place home has a real and meaningful opportunity to thrive.”
The organization selected Neighborhood North for this grant opportunity because the institution believes Neighborhood North’s project “represents an important endeavor in advancing our overall goals. Our success hinges on the organizations and projects we support, so we strive to be thoughtful about our partners and rigorous about the work we support.”
That grant will help Neighborhood North equip artists who would like to eventually become “teaching artists” in the community. Artists interested in becoming “teaching artists” or learning more about the program can contact Kroger for more information about how to get involved.
“I am excited when I imagine a future Beaver County where a culture of arts-integration inspires a pipeline of local teaching artists and allows all students to learn through the arts. I am grateful to the Heinz Endowments for helping us to take this first step in that direction,” Kroger said.
About Neighborhood North Museum of Play: Neighborhood North Museum of Play is Beaver County’s first children’s museum where you’ll find a unique space designed to foster curiosity, learning, and connection. Neighborhood North envisions our diverse communities strengthened by families through playing, making, and innovating together.
About The Heinz Endowments: The Heinz Endowments seeks to help our region thrive as a whole and just community and, through that work, to model solutions to major national and global challenges. We are devoted to advancing our vision of southwestern Pennsylvania as a vibrant center of creativity, learning, and social, economic, and environmental sustainability. Our work is supported by reliable data based on equitable, results-focused goals to cultivate a world where all are treated with fairness and respect and have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential.