Formed in 2002, the Alaska Arts Education Consortium (AAEC) has three main goals: professional development, public awareness, and sustainability. Of these, professional development is the key to the positive changes in many Alaskan school districts. The AAEC achieves this goal mainly through 1-2 week intensive, summer institutes wherein educators actively learn to use the arts to motivate and increase student learning and to electrify their teaching.
AAEC Executive Director Barbara Short says the organization’s signature professional development initiative is their two-week-long Basic Arts Institute. This institute, conducted every summer since 2004, will be conducted in four different cities throughout Alaska in 2016. Participants learn to integrate a variety of art forms into curriculum and instruction, with daily sessions that focus on topics like brain research, Native arts, and adapting arts activities for students with disabilities.
In addition to their Basic Arts Institutes, AAEC is also offering two special topic institutes for summer 2016. Each special topic institute will last one week, with this year’s topics being “Weaving Arts, Culture, and Technology into Curriculum” and “Arts are Exceptional.” The Arts are Exceptional Institute is an opportunity for educators, teaching artists, and para-professionals to learn how to increase participation in the arts for students with disabilities.
Short says all the Basic Arts Institutes usually have a strand on working with students with disabilities, but the five-day Arts are Exceptional Institute will be a complete focus on that topic. Three teacher-leaders will conduct daily sessions in theory and application, visual arts, and performing arts, and lesson plans showing participants how to apply what they have learned will be created. The 2016 Arts are Exceptional Institute will be held in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Since the beginning of its professional development program, AAEC has prioritized evaluation of the institutes. Short says this is partially thanks to the enthusiastic presence of an AAEC board member who is also a professional evaluator. Institute participants complete a daily feedback form that is reviewed at the end of each day so that the teacher-leaders and administrators can assess and make adjustments to their plans in real time, as needed. Participants also complete pre- and post-institute surveys to help AAEC leaders prepare and debrief, as well as log daily journal entries to reflect on their experiences.
According to Short, both long-range and short-range evaluations are part of their assessment process. AAEC calculates that over 900 teachers have participated in the 38 institutes, reaching over 30,000 Alaskan students in the past 12 years. Enthusiasm has remained strong among participants, with many educators attending more than one institute, or attending a special topic institute after participating in and enjoying a Basic Arts Institute.
For the 2016 program, Short estimates approximately 30 participants at each of the institutes. She says AAEC’s data also demonstrates enormous diversity among the students reached, which can be attributed to the unusual landscape of Alaska. Many communities are small, culturally unique, and not on a road system; in such places, a single teacher can have a big impact. Of course, says Short, every town also includes students with disabilities. AAEC is making sure Alaskan arts educators are well equipped with the tools they need to successfully engage every student throughout the large and diverse state of Alaska.