Arts advantage

Fine Arts Specialist Andy Meadows of the Alabama State Department of Education and Pelham High School Theatre teacher Jamie Stephenson enjoy a break after the Arts Grant Initiative training in Montgomery. (Contributed)

Fine Arts Specialist Andy Meadows of the Alabama State Department of Education and Pelham High School Theatre teacher Jamie Stephenson enjoy a break after the Arts Grant Initiative training in Montgomery. (Contributed)

By CONNIE NOLEN / Community Columnist

“I am in my second year of medical school at the University of South Alabama and art is integral to my ability to retain the vast amount of information I learn in a small amount of time,” said the young woman speaking to the Alabama Arts Initiative Grant winners.

Hearing from a medical school student was surprising at an Arts Grant orientation meeting, but nothing could surprise Jamie Stephenson and I more than winning the $20,000 for arts education in Pelham City Schools had. We listened intently.

Using a sketch of a 50s-style hamburger restaurant, the student said this image helped her learn about E.coli. The cat in the image connected the association of catalase to E.coli and a water truck sitting outside reminded her that E.coli was waterborne. Each detail held meaning.

The student referenced a blind study revealing that using cartoons and other audiovisual mnemonics resulted in retaining 331 percent more material months later.

Texting English teacher Katie Borland at PHS, I asked, “What was the wording that you learned to use with tutoring?”

“Picture what you’re reading. What do you picture when you read this?” Borland responded.

“Thanks!” I replied. “We’re at arts training—much to share when I return.”

This year, for the first time, I added Quizlet links for my students’ year-long vocabulary study. Quizlet provides digital flashcards for numerous topics. Our initial Quizlet links included images attached to vocabulary words. Unit four’s link was without pictures. Countless kids asked for a link with images in addition to the written definition. All future links had both.

This spring, a greater number of students are using vocabulary words in essays—even words from fall units. Stephenson and I discovered that creating more neuropathways is the result of integrating arts and sciences.

With Pelham High School identified by a Savannah College of Art and Design recruiter as “the strongest school in the visual, theatre and writing arts” from the eighteen states she served, research proving that strong arts programs and excellent test scores are intricately connected is phenomenal news.