In summer program, teachers get schooled in the arts

Juneau Basic Arts Institute participants demonstrate what they've learned

To the beat of a deerskin drum and the tune of a Tlingit song, 16 teachers from several Alaskan communities danced into the University of Alaska Southeast classroom where they had spent the last two weeks.

It was Thursday night, and the teachers — hailing from Juneau, Ketchikan and Kodiak — were both performing and celebrating. They had just completed the Juneau Basic Arts Institute, an annual summer program aimed at helping K–12 educators and administrators learn to incorporate art into their teaching on a daily basis.

Thursday night was a show and tell of sorts, allowing the teachers to demonstrate what they learned.

The institute has been helping teachers add art — in the form of painting, drawing, acting and playing music — to their curriculum for the past 13 years. And, according to institute faculty members, it has consequently played a crucial role in helping shape students.

“We want to ask how we can grow a classroom where students really feel like engaged citizens, how we can give them a sense of self empowerment that they might not have in their everyday lives,” said institute faculty member Ryan Conarro, who taught drama during the two-week program.

One of the ways Conarro hopes to help teachers create this engaging, empowering classroom is by “teaching in role.”

During Thursday’s event, Juneau teacher Kate Kroko demonstrated teaching in role by giving a sample lesson where she pretended to be a backwoods fly fisher. In her act, she taught students how to play the violin by comparing bow movements to casting.

Institute instructors also taught the participating teachers the importance of incorporating Alaska Native culture and stories into their classrooms.

“The arts are the most powerful and effective way to teach kids,” Institute faculty member Lorrie Heagy said Thursday night. “We’ve been wired for stories for thousands of years, and they’re such a culturally responsive way of learning. They help kids retain what they learn and have fun.”

The institute was sponsored by the Alaska Arts Education Consortium, Sealaska Heritage Institute and the University of Alaska Southeast.

• Contact reporter Sam DeGrave at 523-2279 or

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