Academy’s artistic teaching recognized

Lincoln Jackson Arts Academy second graders practice their 1551 medieval dance Wednesday on the playground at the school. The second graders, who will perform the dance Friday morning, are studying Shakespeare. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth.

By Ryan Lengerich: CNJ staff writer

The school walls are busier than those of a college dorm room. Glitter, paint, cardboard and gauze used for student projects clutter hallways.

At Lincoln Jackson Art Academy, art is not a class or activity — it is a philosophy.

That philosophy has attracted national attention and a visit today and Friday from the Institute for Education and the Arts, a Washington-based organization established in 2002 in association with the Library of Congress and Smithsonian Institution.

“That is the unique part about our school: Art is not a separate entity,” second-grade teacher Susan Nuttall said. “It flows through the cadre of everything that we do in the school.”

Institute President Ronald Stowe said the organization, along with arts education officials from Toronto, are visiting Clovis for the first time and will observe school teaching methods.

School principal Shelly Norris said the school’s “arts-infused instruction,” philosophy uses artistic methods for teaching all subject matter. Music, for example, can be used to teach math.

Lincoln Jackson will be featured in a report produced by the institute following visits to schools around the state. The goal, Stowe said, is to show educators and communities the advantages of using art in educational curriculum.

“We would like to see this technique they are using in the academy as an example throughout the state,” Stowe said. “There are lots of schools across the country that are looking for the results that come out of these visits in New Mexico.”

Formerly known as Lincoln Jackson Elementary, the school was converted to an art academy in 2001. Norris was named principal and hired all new faculty. She said the school, once in danger of falling into state hands due to academic deficiencies, was taken off probation after one year as an academy.

Today’s visit, she said, proves the school’s methods are working.

“They are not coming because we are located in the best part of town or have the most money,” Norris said. “The bottom line is we get results.”

At the school students dress according to a uniform policy, the only district school to do so. Second graders rehearse Shakespeare. Third and fourth graders study artist Georgia O’Keeffe. With little storage space available, the school bathroom is packed with costumes for this weekend’s opera performance.

Every Friday the school holds morning student performances called “Breakfast with the Arts.” Nuttall’s second graders will perform vignettes from “Romeo and Juliet.” Justus Strickland will play Romeo.

“When I first came here I was nervous but then I opened up,” the 8-year-old said. “I like acting and story telling and art.”

About 60 percent of the students live near the school on Grand Avenue in Clovis’ southwest, a high crime area. The rest apply and are accepted from around Clovis.

“I’ve got kids right now whose brothers are in jail, dads are in jail or just got shot,” Nuttall said. “But we gave them hope. We gave them a belief in themselves that, through this, they could find their original genius and that is the theme of our school.”