Making a Difference: Arts Toolkits


My students enjoy the arts. Some have asked me how they could take dance lessons or what they would need to do to become a visual artist. You know, we tell students they can be anything and do anything. But until they see it for themselves, they don’t believe it.

Rhonda Smith

Teacher, Richardsville Elementary

Rhonda Smith’s students at Richardsville Elementary School in rural Warren County enjoy a rich variety of arts experiences, even though they have few opportunities to visit art museums or attend live performances. Smith brings the arts to them through KET’s Arts Toolkits in drama, dance, and visual arts. (A music toolkit is coming in 2007.)

Helping K-12 teachers bring the arts to life in the classroom is what Kentucky Commissioner of Education Gene Wilhoit had in mind when he challenged KET in 2001 to lead a statewide partnership to create the Arts Toolkits. Teachers preparing Kentucky students for assessment in the arts and humanities had varying levels of experience. Smith, for example, was teaching K-6 arts and humanities. She had taught visual art, but had no formal training in dance or drama. “I had looked everywhere for things such as African dance, but had trouble finding quality resources. So when the toolkits came about, I felt empowered,” she says.

This year, Smith is integrating the arts into 5th-grade social studies classes. “There’s so much in the toolkits our students need,” Smith says. “The video aspect is wonderful. Students pay attention. We get up and do the African dance steps together. Then we discuss the dance elements and compare and contrast them with dances they already know, like the cha cha slide. I do Native American dance the same way. I use the video segments in the Drama Toolkit to have students compare and contrast performances.”

Each multimedia toolkit includes about eight hours of video segments of performances, interviews, and demonstrations, plus lesson plans, glossaries, information on periods and cultures, posters, an extensive listing of Kentucky arts organizations, and special resources such as the Kentucky Virtual Art Museum—which includes images of more than 200 works of art from 20 Kentucky museums. “These are fabulous resources that save teachers hours and hours of searching,” Smith notes.

The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts and the Kentucky Arts Council are among the many arts organizations that collaborated with the Kentucky Department of Education and KET to produce the toolkits. Dozens of artists and teachers created lesson plans and other materials. “The toolkits showcase Kentucky artists and make teachers aware of arts resources all around them,” explains Nancy Carpenter, KET director of arts and cultural programs.

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The toolkits have garnered rave reviews both inside and outside Kentucky. The Drama Arts Toolkit was named Best Instructional Product and Best of the Best by the National Educational Telecommunications Association. The Arts Toolkit web site has attracted teachers from all 50 states and 68 other countries. “In addition to addressing the state’s academic content, the toolkits promote ‘best practice,’ making the best of Kentucky’s educational resources and arts institutions available to every teacher and student across the state,” says Phil Shepherd, KDE arts and humanities consultant.

Smith believes that the Arts Toolkits have contributed to Richardsville Elementary’s steadily rising arts and humanities scores in recent years—but notes that the benefits are not just about test scores. “My students enjoy the arts,” she says. “Some have asked me how they could take dance lessons or what they would need to do to become a visual artist. You know, we tell students they can be anything and do anything. But until they see it for themselves, they don’t believe it.”