The Need for Pre-K Creativity in the Classroom

Implementing an arts-based curriculum at an early age has been proven to enhance students’ confidence, creativity, and academic performance. It is no question, at this point, that the arts are integral to a well-rounded education.

However, there is a lack of robust arts programming within pre-K environments.

Too often, these classrooms are structured to deliver pre-literacy skills in reading and math without considering the fact that children at this age learn best through “play.” The creative environment fostered by the arts and art-making provides children with rich experiences through which they can develop these pre-literacy skills. This leaves educators with a major challenge: How do we promote arts integration in pre-schools that will take advantage of how children learn best at this age.

 The ABCs of Pre-Literacy

Pre-literacy skills cover much more than a child’s ability to identify letters, numbers, or shapes. Important skills like oral language awareness, as well as knowledge of the alphabet, and an understanding of common print concepts such as the fact that print moves from left to right and from up to down on a page, compose the foundation for becoming successful readers.

While knowing letters and sounds are important, a child’s oral language skills are the most significant factors in reading success. The foundation for reading development is language; it is strongly tied to a child’s growth in reading and writing. By about age 5, research shows that most children have learned approximately 5,000 words. Furthermore, those words aren’t acquired through passive listening alone. Instead, verbal interactions and multiple experiences support the growth of language. Many at-risk children lack the necessary interventions at home that promote the acquisition of a rich and varied vocabulary.

Children entering kindergarten are expected to have some pre-literacy skills — especially the ability to carry a brief conversation. A teacher would also want students to pay attention and react to stories; have knowledge of some alphabet letters as well as the sounds these letters make, and some basic print concepts, such as knowing that printed words convey meaning.

All of these skills are important because we live in a language-and print-rich environment.

Create Rich Play Environments for Learning

At Emlen School, a PAEP artist read the book I Need My Monster by Amanda Knoll to a group of four-year-olds.  Each child was given a sheet of white paper with a black shape glued onto it. Children then created their own monsters, incorporating the shapes and embellishing them using colored markers. The artist then asked each child to tell a story about their own monster.

This project encouraged oral language development and built an understanding that a story has a beginning, middle and end. The addition of the art-making activity tapped into children’s needs for visual, tactile, and aural-rich stimuli, providing a structure for acquiring pre-literacy skills through creative play.

This is just one example of integrating a visual arts experience in support of pre-literacy learning. Music, drama, and dance also provide robust experiences for children to explore learning through play.

For more pre-K arts resources, visit our website.

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Ahmir Thompson Joins PAEP’s Board of Directors

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

We are excited to announce that Ahmir Thompson (“Questlove”) has joined the Philadelphia Arts in Education PartnershipBoard of Directors.

You may know Ahmir from his award-winning work with The Roots, who happen to be the house band of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, or as a New York Times bestselling author, Broadway and music Producer, DJ, and culinary entrepreneur.

I know him differently.  A former student of mine, I have had the pleasure of seeing Ahmir grow from a small boy into the larger-than-life star that he is today.  And I saw the way that the arts made him come alive in his youth.  That’s all we want for each student that PAEP serves.

All of us at PAEP are so pleased that Ahmir will work with us as we provide crucial arts education programming to children just like him in Philadelphia.  We know that, given access to this curriculum, our students will be set on a path to achieve their dreams—whatever they may be.

Read the full press release.

Please join us in welcoming Ahmir to the PAEP family.

Pearl Schaeffer



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After School STEAM Enrichment Receives a Grant

The Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership (PAEP) proudly announces that its After School STEAM Enrichment program has received a $1.2 million grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) to continue its work to improve core academic learning for underserved and at-risk students through its arts-integrated with science and mathematics model.

$23.1 million in federal funding has been awarded to 64 school districts and community-based organizations in 29 counties across the state. The intention of these grants is to supplement educational opportunities to enhance the work teachers and students are doing in the classroom. The 21st CCLC federal funding program will enable PAEP to expand its current 21st CCLC STEAM program to five additional School District of Philadelphia schools serving students in grades 5-8.

The $1.2 million will be dispersed over a three year period enabling PAEP to invest $400,000 each year in services and resources for the School District of Philadelphia. PAEP’s grant will serve over 256 students each of the three years and will provide students at the five schools with unique after school educational opportunities. Additionally, PAEP will hire 20 teaching artists annually, who will integrate science and math learning into instruction in theater, music, visual art, and dance.

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Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Residencies 2013-14

As we begin to transition into the new school year PAEP acknowledges the great work that took place in our 2013-14 Art Residencies funded by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts . Our residencies took place in 40 schools and community sites and our Directory Artists exposed students of all age groups to a variety of visual and performing art forms. Residencies have become essential to the culture of our schools and community sites, giving students meaningful lessons through the arts.

This past year, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts asked all of the regional partners to develop a story in a form of a video to demonstrate the power of the arts and how the PCA funds provide vitality to our work in Pennsylvania’s schools and communities. PAEP took this opportunity to share the breadth and depth of our Artist Residency Program and how our arts integration model has provided whole school transformations. We believe that the arts appeal and positively affect all types of students. Throughout the video you will hear from our important stakeholders: principals, teachers, teaching artists, students, and parents about the impact of this work and the role they see the arts playing in the future.

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Long Term Residency: Art and Eve

In 2004, the Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership (PAEP) was selected to partner with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts‘ (PCA) Arts in Education Division. As the PCA regional partner, PAEP designs, implements, manages, and provides financial support for arts residencies in schools and community sites throughout southeastern Pennsylvania. PAEP trains visual and performing arts teaching artists to integrate the arts with academic curricula. PAEP manages 30-40 visual and performing arts-making residencies per year with students in preK-12 classroom and community sites. PAEP also reviews and accepts local artists annually for inclusion in the Directory of Pennsylvania’s Artists in Education. This Directory is primarily used as a tool by schools and community sites to identify artists for the Artist in Residency Program.

In addition to our Residency program, PAEP also provides support for Long Term Residencies (LTR’s) which are a more in depth approach to student learning in and through the arts. LTR’s consists of a minimum of 60 days and engages learners in the creative process through artistic and core curricular goals and objectives. Each LTR is uniquely designed and developed between a Directory Teaching Artist, Project Director, and host site.

One of PAEP’s most established LTR’s, “Art and Eve”, is in its second year at Grover Washington Middle School. Art and Eve” is an in-school arts residency program that promotes interest in science, mathematics, and technology for adolescent girls through art and design projects that challenge their preconceived and frequently negative notions about STEM subjects. This project targets socially at-risk girls and aims to build a sense of competence and confidence, critical thinking and problem solving skills, and the ability to work together and function as a team, all skills necessary for the 21st century workforce.

Art and Eve” was created through collaboration with technology teacher Gina Griffith, Teaching Artist Lisa Volta, the Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership (PAEP), and Grover Washington Jr. Middle School. “Art and Eve” continues the mission of promoting positive growth within the school’s female population and increases the likelihood of their future success as well as supporting them in becoming better citizens for our community and nation.

This past year the girls have been exposed to a variety of exciting new topics including: computer software mastery, research skills utilizing technology, creation of blogs, jewelry making, and most recently, designing and fabricating light boxes. Since “Art and Eve” strives to expose students to the possibility of furthering their education while also setting personal goals for themselves, artist Lisa Volta and teacher Gina Griffith thought it would be a valuable opportunity to take the students on a field trip to Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia. During the visit, the girls learned about the Youth Artist Program that Moore offers to middle and high school students over the summer months to help them strengthen their artistic skills. The girls also toured the campus, including different art departments and gallery spaces. Within these departments they saw the latest technologies and learned how they are relevant to the projects they have worked on in “Art and Eve”.  At the conclusion of the tour, the girls walked away with a true excitement for college and the realization that they can achieve a higher education.

With continuous support from all partners, “Art and Eve” provides a safe space for girls to engage in learning while also being able to share their thoughts and ideas with one another. PAEP is excited to announce that the program will continue its work at Grover Washington Middle School in the 2014-15 school year.

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After School STEAM Program

The Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership (PAEP) is pleased to report the success that The After School STEAM Program is experiencing in its second year. The after school program is funded in part by the Pennsylvania Department of Education 21st Century Community Learning Center  (21st CCLC) Grant. Pennsylvania’s primary goal for its 21st CCLC programs are to assist youth to meet state standards for core academic subjects by providing students with academic enrichment opportunities.

Currently PAEP’s After School STEAM Program is engaging 5th to 8th grade students at five schools in the southeastern region: A.M.Y at James Martin School, Bache-Martin School, Shawmont School, Stephen Decatur School, and Woodrow Wilson Middle School.

The mission of the After School STEAM Program is to provide quality educational programming for all students through engaging visual and performing arts experiences. Designed to augment STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) with the inclusion of the arts (STEAM), this program employs visual and performing arts as a means to strengthen students’ mathematics and science competencies, promote healthy lifestyles through physical fitness and better nutrition, and enhance the development of students’ pro social behaviors and attitudes towards school.

PAEP recently sat down with Naza Badal, one of our dance-teaching artists, to discuss her work in the After School STEAM Program. Naza, who teaches at our Stephen Decatur School site, comes to PAEP from Project Spotlight, one of PAEP’s Rostered Ensembles who can be found in PAEP’s Directory of Pennsylvania Artists in Education. Through Naza’s experience with Project Spotlight, she teaches the students exciting styles of dance that they don’t typically get to experience, such as ballroom dancing, jive, salsa, and hip hop. PAEP took this opportunity to get Naza’s perspective on the program this year and what it’s like working with Decatur’s students in the performing arts.

PAEP: What made you get involved in the After School STEAM Program?

NAZA BADAL: As a dancer it was always my dream to teach kids what I love. There are so many talented children in this world. The After School STEAM Program opens doors for these students to things they couldn’t even imagine. When I got this job, I was excited to meet the students and teach them everything that I know about dance.

PAEP: Why did you become a dance teacher?

NB: I became a teacher because it is such an amazing job and not everyone can do it. My mom was a math teacher and that played an enormous role. Being an educator is a big responsibility. When I teach the students a certain topic, and they actually learn it, I feel successful. Personally, I love taking on new challenges and exploring what can come from it. Teaching can change a student’s life and who doesn’t want to be a part of that?

PAEP: What are you looking to get out of the After School STEAM Program?

NB: The first thing is to teach kids about the arts. You never know what these kids are capable of until you teach them and they try it out. I’m looking forward to meeting new students and trying to teach them in different ways. The schools are multi-cultural and I think that plays a big role in the success of the After School STEAM Program.

PAEP: How do you think these children benefit from attending this program?

NB: The students who attend this program learn how to connect with other students that are of different ages and cultures. The students learn about a variety of art disciplines and the program works on improving the students’ behaviors. For example, at Decatur we have a few students with discipline problems. Their behavior has improved tremendously in the after school program. We even heard from a few staff members that the students’ behavior has improved throughout the school day as well.  I think the After School STEAM Program helps children realize that the possibilities for them are endless. This is a good program, not just for the kids but also for us, the teaching artists.

Click below to see Naza’s work with Decatur’s students at an After School STEAM Program Open House that took place on November 21st, 2013. The Open House included extraordinary dance performances, theater performances, a visual art exhibition, and reception open to all parents, families, faculty, staff, and community members.


Watch the After School STEAM Program Video here:


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PAEP Receives The NEA Art Works Grant

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Acting Chairperson Joan Shigekawa announced that we are one of 895 nonprofit organizations nationwide to receive an NEA Art Works grant. We have been recommended for a $25,000 grant to support SmART Readers: An After School Arts and Literacy Program in Libraries.

PAEP, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the School District of Philadelphia are partnering together to create an after school program at eight different libraries around the city. The program aims to build skill and knowledge in the visual arts while also reinforcing grade level literacy/language arts skills for kids in grades 2-5. Based on projects, SmART Readers will promote experiential learning in the arts, develop critical thinking skills, and will include research and writing skills in each arts unit of study. Our students will be able to transform libraries into art galleries, allowing all families of the students to view their work. The students will be also taken to the Philadelphia Art Museum where they can experience major art works representative of the project they will engage in during the course of the program.

Shigekawa said, “The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support these exciting and diverse arts projects that will take place through the United States. Whether it is through a focus on education, engagement, or innovation, these projects all contribute to vibrant communities and memorable experience for the public to engage with the arts.”

Pearl Schaeffer, PAEP’s Chief Executive Officer also commented, “PAEP is delighted to accept this prestigious award presented through The National Endowment for the Arts. By utilizing the arts and partnering with key stakeholders in Philadelphia’s community, PAEP continues to strive to expand its work in after school time and provide students with more quality art experiences.

Art Works grants support the creation of art that exhibits excellence through: public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and enhancing the livability of communities through the arts. The NEA received 1,528 eligible Art Works applications, requesting more than $75 million in funding. Of those applications, 895 are recommended for grants for a total of $23.4 million.

For a complete listing of projects recommended for Art Works grant support, please visit the NEA website at

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PAEP Scholastic Awards

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards is an annual awards competition, structured to spotlight the talents of students in grades seven through twelve, and potentially discovering and nurturing future leaders in the art and writing fields. Previous winners include trail blazers like Andy Warhol, Sylvia Plath and Truman Capote.

In 2009, the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers contacted the Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership (PAEP) to act as a regional affiliate for the award. With the help and recruitment of the PAEP, at least one child has won the highest award, the Gold Key, each year.

For students from Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks, Chester and Delaware counties, this is a huge opportunity for them to show off their talents at a regional and potentially national level. Students can submit work to 28 categories, including Architecture, Comic Art, Ceramics and Glass, Digital Art, Drawing, Fashion and more.

Once at the national level, they have the opportunity to win not only the awards, but also scholarships. Each year, 15 participants receive the Portfolio Gold Award, where students who submit a portfolio of work are recognized for excellence, plus $10,000. Additionally, through the Scholarship Provider Network, the seniors who are recognized with a national award on any level are eligible for nearly $4 million of scholarships at 60 schools. With this award, a child from the Philadelphia or surrounding area could go from dreaming of going to school, to making it a reality.

Aside from the scholarships, the awards are a chance for children to show off their exceptional talent, be recognized for it and ultimately learn what it means to put effort and passion into their work, and reap the benefits.

“We want them to have a sense of accomplishment and that their work is well done,” says Megan Lafferty, the Director of Administration at the PAEP. “We want them to grow as artists.”

To make this happen, Lafferty works in collaboration with the Philadelphia Writing Project to distribute information about and plan the awards. PAEP is charged with encouraging students to submit art, while the Philadelphia Writing Project promotes the awards to budding writers.

The planning for the spring awards ceremony, which can happen anytime between April and June, begins around October. PAEP and the Philadelphia Writing Project meet in a neutral location, like the Philadelphia Free Library, to start planning for the Awards.

Afterwards, PAEP promotes the awards using posters and postcards at schools, and the database of students who previously submitted work.

Students use an online portal to upload their work, which will later be judged by a panel of multifaceted artists and writers with versatile backgrounds, making them ideal judges for the variety of work submitted by the participants.

Last year, the PAEP saw an influx of submissions from the younger end of the eligible population. “A number of 7th and 8th graders won Gold and Silver keys,” Lafferty says. This is a sign of growth and influence of the awards, since participants are encouraged to participate year after year. “We’re building that 7th and 8th grade base.”

Even in the first few years, the PAEP has been able to watch the awards motivate a young artist. “We had a 7th grader submit, and have watched her grow through the program,” says Lafferty. “It’s fun to watch them grow as people and as artists.”



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PAEP is a Hit at the Arts in Education National Forum

Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership joined 177 other organizations working at the federal, state and local levels in Washington, D.C. to be a part of the Arts in Education National Forum: Arts, Education and the Next America.

Two days were packed with 22 concurrent breakout sessions to discuss the future — and importance — of arts in the American education system. PAEP applied to be a presenter at one of the sessions, eager to discuss the work they’ve done as part of the Arts Link program. This program is applied in and around Philadelphia public schools, using a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to research how to improve core content learning in mathematics and science using art and art concepts.

“We’ve been testing an arts integration model in schools since 2006 first to improve literacy learning and now mathematics and science concepts and skill acquisition.” says Raye Cohen, the Director of Education at PAEP.

PAEP’s research is applicable to the common core, which is the national standard adopted by the state for public school education. “Our model is well-aligned with the common core, and it helps teachers in the classroom to implement it.” explains Raye.

The common core engages students in their learning, making them actively learn and in return, absorb the information for future applications.

“The common core promotes discussion and debates,” says Mary Dupre, PAEP Special Projects Manager. “[For example], if a student looks at a photo from Hurricane Sandy, they might look at it and see destruction, but [do they understand] the long-term implications?”

For many students, the answer is no. “What we’re finding with the ‘no child left behind policy’ [is that we’re] teaching students how to answer test questions, without understanding the information to get to that answer,” says Mary.

“Now, there’s a shift in thinking about education, so they came up with this common core state standards; we’re actually going back to teaching students concepts and linking the facts back to those concepts,” Mary says.

Raye and Mary, along with Pearl Schaffer, CEO at PAEP and Dennis Creedon, Assistant Superintendent, Office of Academic Enrichment and Support, School District of Philadelphia, presented their findings at the National Forum in a presentation titled, The Common Core in Action: How Arts Integration and the Common Core Converge.

With close to a decade of experience behind them, 2013 was the first year PAEP had the opportunity to display their findings at the National Forum. “This was our chance to make our impression on people; otherwise there’s not really an opportunity to meet people, other than informally,” Raye says. With close to 300 leaders in the arts, business, culture, government and philanthropy sectors, it was a great event to disseminate the findings and network to create future opportunities.

PAEP has a lot to share with its peers. “The arts promote conceptual understanding, and using the tools, or the facts, to create the art — this is artistic process,” says Mary. “Unfortunately it’s stored away from all the other subject areas, but this process it the best for any type of learning.”

In an effort to break down those silos and integrate arts with the common core, PAEP has been applying arts integration in schools through the Arts Link program. “That’s why we wanted to present at this conference — to show them what this convergence is,” says Mary. “We believe we’re on to something.”

While some attendees had a general understanding of the common core and arts integration, they didn’t understand how it could be applied. “[During] our presentation, we took them through the process. We asked them to create questions that they would use in their classroom,” says Mary.

“Some of them would go partially into what they could do, then we gave them suggestions for what they could do,” Mary explains. “That’s when they really caught on; that’s when they saw what was possible.”

The research and presentation was well-received among their peers. “There was a lot of people afterwards who came us to and told us that it was the most informative, and for some, the best presentation they attended,” says Raye.

The PAEP team came equipped with a 40-page catalogue, detailing year two of Arts Link with unit plans and photographs that conveyed the power of arts integration to deliver common core state standards, arts and humanity standards, and grade level academic content. plans and photographs in regards to the work they’ve done with arts integration and the common core. “We had it hot off the press and were able to hand it out,” Raye says.

After the National Forum, PAEP plans on continuing to spread their research. “People are just learning about the common core,” Mary says. They’ve been invited to New York, Miami and San Francisco, among other locations, to share their presentation. Their main goal: “To continue to evolve our model through research and application and demonstrate that PAEP’s arts integration model is a roadmap for others to follow.” Mary says.

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PAEP Teaching Artist Profile: Baily Cypress

Mosaics have been a popular form of art for thousands of years, and their lasting power can be seen in the ancient Greek and Roman portraits and mythological scenes still on display today. This art is created by taking many small pieces of stone and glass and arranging them to make a large, cohesive piece of art. It’s a medium that requires dedication, vision and many man hours.

For one Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership Teaching Artist, Baily Cypress, the process of making a mosaic is just as beautiful as the end result.

“[Students of] all different ages have the same reaction,” when they’re working on a mosaic, Cypress says. “Everyone gets this expression that comes over their face when they realize it…their part in the collaborativeness and the lastingness of it.”

Cypress works as a PAEP Teaching Artist in partnership with another artist, Julie Deery. The pair met at the University of the Arts, where Cypress graduated with her Bachelors of Fine Artsdegree. Cypress later went on to earn her Masters degree from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Together, over the past seven years, they’ve helped guide students in creating permanent mosaics in schools in the Lower Merion School District, about half an hour drive from Philadelphia, as well as schools in the city.

With each new group of children, and each new mosaic, Cypress and Deery follow a process to ensure that the final product reflects the inner workings of the school’s children.

“First, we ask the administration to have a theme,” Cypress explains. With the theme in mind, Cypress and Deery ask the children to brainstorm; to tell them anything that sparks their imagination.

After several brainstorming sessions, Cypress and Deery take a look at the ideas and figure out where the overlapping ideas are, and with that direction, the children draw their vision of the end mosaic.
Cypress and Deery then create a rendition for the group to follow, and then the hands-on work begins.

“The kids break the tile; the older kids, they cut stained glass,” Cypress says. “Everybody puts tiles on the wall, and everyone participates in the grouting.”

The end products are colorful, vivid mosaics that only a child’s imagination could create. “It’s their imagery, from beginning to end,” Cypress says.

The most satisfying part for Cypress? “I really like how empowered the kids are through the process of doing it,” she says. “It makes an impact.”

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