Cook Elementary celebrates 'Model School' designation
The Dispatch. Jan Swoope. August 26, 2017.

When students returned to Cook Elementary Fine Arts Magnet School earlier this month, they learned of something new to celebrate. This summer Cook was named a Model School for arts integration by the Whole Schools Initiative (WSI), a Mississippi Arts Commission program. Cook is one of only nine Model Schools in the state, said music teacher Tina Morgan. She attended the June WSI Summer Institute in Gulfport, where the announcement was made.  


"Cook was thrilled to learn that it had been named a Model School for arts integration!" Morgan said. "The Initiative, Mississippi's first comprehensive statewide arts education program, uses the arts as a vehicle for promoting high-quality instruction and learning for students in all disciplines." The program goes well beyond "art for art's sake." Instead, the arts -- music, dance, drama, movement -- are integrated in teaching all subjects. 


Fulfilling requirements for Model School status required focus and commitment. 


"This past year we made a concerted effort to increase our implementation," said Cook Principal Dr. Tim Wilcox. Examples of that effort range from increasing the school's permanent art that relates to core academic standards, to incorporating exercises such as using musical scales to enhance lessons on fractions.  


"Any way we can get students to understand conceptually what we're trying to teach makes it more meaningful to them," Wilcox said. 


First-grade teacher Patti Barley explained that Cook became a "Whole School" in 2008 under the direction of drama teacher Heather Rowland. Bartley serves as current project director for the school. Last year, she co-directed with movement instructor Courtney Hall. For the past nine years, the school has worked toward increasing arts integration. "We began working on the requirements for achieving Model School status in August 2016," said Bartley. "It's been a long process. It's been a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and we appreciate that our school board supports arts in our classrooms and allows us to have it." 


Like other teachers, Bartley sees the impact.  


"I've seen it make a huge difference in our students' abilities to show what they know in ways that go beyond just pencil and paper," she remarked. Teaching through arts disciplines like movement and music enables children to better understand and retain. "I tell my kids all the time, if your whole body knows it then your brain maintains it." 


Cook's two-year Model School status means faculty will continue to integrate arts disciplines in the classroom. Monthly planning meetings and professional development will help guide teachers and foster ideas. It also means other Mississippi schools are expected to visit to observe the school's strategies in action. And now that students are back for a new academic year, a campus-wide Model School celebration is being planned.

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