The Key to Our Success? A Well-Rounded Curriculum, Each and Every Day

When I first came to Acacia Elementary School as the turnaround principal in 2003, I noticed three things: first, we had excellent teachers – but student performance was struggling and parent involvement was lagging. While many struggling schools in similar situations make the decision to boost up their reading and math interventions at the expense of classes like art and music, we did not.

Acacia first graders have talent! They performed songs for a production of 'Stone Soup'. The arts are an integral part of the well-rounded curriculum. (Photo courtesy Christine Hollingsworth)

Acacia first graders have talent. They performed songs for a production of Stone Soup. The arts are an integral part of the well-rounded curriculum. (Photo courtesy Christine Hollingsworth)

Walk through our school today and you’ll see monthly special events with standing-room only attendance; kindergarteners excited to apply what they learned in reading class to P.E., like using patterns, for example; and a third grade music class where students are learning about beats, syllables, and counts so they can write powerful haikus in their writing classes.

While other districts debated whether to cut classes like music and art, the Washington Elementary School District Governing Board stood up for us because they understood that these “specials” are vitally important to the whole child. And our board has seen that as a result of that investment, students are doing better than ever.

To us, all subjects are equally important to a well-rounded education. Reading, Language Arts, Math, Science, Technology, Social Science, Art, Music and Physical Education interrelate and our teachers are committed to ensuring that our students are exposed to all of them to the greatest extent possible. In P.E. class, for example, kids don’t randomly shoot hoops; they’re being athletic in ways that connect to what they’re doing in math class, for instance by using fractions. During hockey lessons, points are added or multiplied depending on how many times the hockey stick hits the puck before a point is scored. So, while students are gaining new physical skills they’re also reinforcing and getting deeper exposure to concepts they were previously taught in math class.

One of the biggest impacts of this philosophy has been our transformed parent involvement. We knew involving parents would be vital to making progress on student achievement and yet, like parents at many Title I schools, many of our families were reluctant and often intimidated to come to the school. By organizing monthly special events like concerts and dinner musicals, parents could come celebrate their children and school staff could use that time to begin establishing positive relationships. Now, when parent-conference night comes around, parents are eager to come talk with the teachers they sat next to at their child’s concert.

In the last few years, I’m proud to say that Acacia Elementary School has been named a National Title I Distinguished School and an A++ School of Excellence according to the Arizona Educational Foundation. To me, one of the differences was in embracing our special classes on every level and working together as a team of educators to ensure that every student experiences P.E., Music or Art, as well as Reading and Math and Science, at dedicated times and throughout their whole day.

Christine Hollingsworth has been the principal of Acacia Elementary School in Phoenix, Arizona, since 2003. 

5 Comments

  1. Great job. As a wise person once said, people can do great many things, if they understand, what are they doing them for. If a student is engaged in a history lesson or in music, you can then introduce some harder topics like physics or foreign languages.

  2. Thank you, Christine, for sharing the importance of specials in a well-rounded education and your perspective from a Title I elementary school. As an elementary general music teacher in a Title I school, I see the positive impact of specials each and every day. The Fine Arts team at my school is currently working on incorporating specific creative and critical thinking skills – such as point of view or encapsulations – into our arts curriculum to reinforce the endless connections between specials and the general classroom. Just today, my second grade class imagined a landscape, ‘painted’ their landscape with their body based on the music they heard, and then wrote poems incorporating the colors of their landscape. This poetic connection between music and language is also another avenue to reaching our ELL students. Thanks again for your commitment to your teachers and students – they are fortunate to have a dedicated and passionate administrator!

  3. A veteran NYC educator once told me, “You don’t get good schools from parent engagement; you get parent engagement with good schools.” It looks like you’ve done that at Acacia Elementary. Congratulations!

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