Education feature: Local teachers headed to Harvard

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

Twelve teachers from the Arts Academy at Bella Vista are headed to Harvard University this weekend to participate in an on-going 32-year research project.

Project Zero began in 1967 at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Its mission is to understand and enhance learning, thinking and creativity in the arts, according to its web site. The teachers are attending the annual summer week-long institute called Project Zero Classroom.

Bella Vista Principal Shelly Norris said the team of teachers is able to attend using a $44,000 incentive gift from the state earned because the school’s math and reading scores improved.

“And it’s going to take every penny,” Norris said. “We wanted to be responsible stewards and this is a way to use the money that will benefit the entire school.”

Norris said the arts-based school subscribes to the same thought processes as the research program.

“We want to bring the arts and core together to make learning meaningful,” Norris said.

Norris attended the institute three years ago and said while she was there, she kept wishing other teachers were there with her.

“It’s one of those ‘you had to be there’ kind of things,” Norris said. “This way, more teachers will go and can bring back that knowledge to their classrooms.”

Norris said teachers will also perform professional development for other teachers at the school.

Project Zero Classroom is designed to help educators create learning environments that promote and develop a students’ multiple intellectual strengths, according to the web site.

Sixth-grade teacher Lisa Julian said she’s excited to be around “like-minded” educators.

“It’s like you have a little fire in you and when you touch someone else’s you catch it from them and you’re torch gets brighter,” she said. “I’m looking forward to learning more about what we do here, thinking through art and music and how to tie that into the classroom.”

Julian said the international institute promotes being a lifelong learner.

“And that’s what this is about. It’s about improving ourselves and bringing that back to our school and making us all better,” she said.

The school’s teachers went through an application process to determine who would attend the workshop.