The Springer Opera House’s PAIR Program is returning for another year to assist teachers in learning how to integrate the fine arts into their classroom.
PAIR is an acronym for Professional Arts Integration Resource, and last year’s pilot program saw a participant return rate of 100 percent for this year.
Heather McLendon, Springer’s associate director of education, is an administrator of the PAIR Program and also serves as a PAIR specialist for educators. McLendon recently corresponded with arts reporter Carrie Beth Wallace to discuss the program’s success last year, how it’s impacting local classrooms, and where the program is headed for educators in the future. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What was last year like? It was the pilot year, right? How did it go?
A: This past school year was the pilot year of the program. Our team of PAIR specialists worked with 16 teachers in total at Fox and South Columbus Elementary Schools. We were so happy to bring these brave teachers along with us as we made our way through this first year of programming. The difference between our first meeting and our final meeting was incredible. By the end of the year our teachers were easily incorporating arts-based strategies into their regular core curriculum independently. Many of our teachers adopted a particular arts-based strategy into their regular routine for teaching vocabulary or reviewing for tests. One PAIR teacher mentioned that her students liked the strategy she had used to teach them the amendments of the constitution so much that they asked to play the theater game instead of going out for recess. It has been an awesome and impacting first year, and we are so excited to continue the momentum into year two of the program.
Q: I read that 100 percent of participants are ready and willing to continue in the PAIR Program for this second year. How do you see these educators benefiting from their time in PAIR?
A: The ultimate goal of the program is a three-year gradual release. In the second year, we will add new teachers while continuing to work with our returning teachers from year one. By the end of the third year, in essence we have developed a self-sustaining program where the teachers who have been a part of the program for all three years can continue to train new teachers as they join the school. In this way, it is possible for an entire school, especially a smaller school like Fox, to have 100 percent of it’s faculty integrating arts-based strategies into their core curriculum as a normal part of the school culture. Apart from this overall goal, we have found that the teachers involved in this program have reported greater satisfaction in their jobs because they felt supported by their PAIR specialist and their collaborative teaching teams. We believe that if you pour into teachers, teachers will naturally pour into their students — making for a happier and more productive classroom environment.
Q: What has been the most rewarding part of the experience for you?
A: As both an administrator of the program and one of the PAIR specialists, it has been an incredibly joyful and rewarding experience. Being partnered with classroom teachers and helping support the areas in their classes where they need the most help has been so rewarding. (I taught quite a lot of math lessons with arts strategies this year.) It is wonderful to see the students grow to embrace the style of learning more and more as I continued to visit their classrooms and work with them. I’ve also really enjoyed the ending of the year where the classroom teacher takes on more of a lead role in the facilitation of the arts-integrated lessons. The students enjoy seeing their teacher play and have fun with them — and all the while they are still focused on core curriculum!
Q: Where do you see the PAIR program going in the future?
A: There is so much potential for growth in the PAIR program. In the first year, we focused primarily on theatre-based arts integration, and in the future I know we would like to expand into the music and visual arts. We have a lot of flexibility in the program, and we would love to hear from members of the community looking to explore what we have to offer.