Even on their day off, a Frazier Middle School eighth grade language arts class came to school to show educators from around the region the impact an educational arts program has had on them.

A demonstrative performance by a dozen students that showcased their experience and tutelage with the Bricolage Production Co. was one highlight of the Rural Arts Collaborative Spring Institute held recently at Frazier.

Founded in 2012, the Rural Arts Collaborative was established to supplement arts programs in rural school districts throughout southwestern Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia by placing teaching artists in residencies. The organization’s second annual spring institute was a meeting of minds between artists, educators and students to reflect on past projects and to give a preview to those who have not yet experienced the program in their schools.

“The purpose of the spring institute is to bring educators, administrators, teaching artists, funders and the students who worked on the projects together to get a sense of what each project was about for those people who have not yet had a Rural Arts Collaborative project in their schools,” said Carmelle Nickens, founder and project manager of the program.

Nickens said the objective of the Rural Arts Collaborative is to place teaching artists in rural school district classrooms to enhance existing arts curricula with project-based, co-curricular arts education.

Artist residencies typically last for a semester or a whole school year while the artists and students work on a public art piece that can be displayed, performed or recorded.

“The kids really get to demonstrate so many different facets of the learning process. So many students become more engaged when exposed to the arts on so many levels,” said Nickens.

In the program’s seven years, it has partnered 39 school districts in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, with artist residencies in Fayette, Greene and Washington county schools, including schools in the Laurel Highlands and Ringgold school districts this school year.

The Bricolage Midnight Radio Jr. education program, a spin-off of the immersive theater troupe’s flagship live variety show “Midnight Radio,” came to Frazier during the 2017-18 school year to promote project-based learning through a 10-week residency, at the end of which students performed an original play in the Midnight Radio format.

The district also had an artist residency through the Rural Arts Collaborative two years ago.

“The Rural Arts Collaborative demonstrates the importance of the arts in the school system. Having the Bricolage program here, it gets so many different kids involved. It gives them a way to express their creative side,” said Frazier Superintendent Dr. Bill Henderson.

“The kids really enjoy the experience. You always get positive feedback with kids being able to try something new and work together collaboratively,” Henderson added.

The spring institute offered training sessions for educators and featured regional artists who have been in residence at area schools.

“Without the arts, I think there’s something lacking,” said Nickens. “That’s why we’re in rural communities, because sometimes the arts curriculum, for whatever reason, has been cut. So we’re trying to do this project-based learning to infuse a more robust curriculum with actual artists.”

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