This year, Springboard, an education non-profit in the St. Louis area, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The organization helps children develop critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication through the arts, science and humanities. Their services reach 55,000 children in the St. Louis region annually. About 72 percent of schools they serve have economically disadvantaged student populations.
In a testing-focused educational environment, the humanities and hands-on learning have taken a hit in the American educational system. Springboard offers programs through their more than 170 teaching artists that bring humanities-focused programs into schools’ classrooms.
“When you consider what education is really supposed to do—to prepare kids to live in our democracy and to be citizens and to be able to make good choices and all the things that makes a good adult—you certainly can’t think just about testing,” said Carol Whittier, a former principal and board member of Springboard, on “St. Louis on the Air.” “Springboard helps in that area because it is a real-world experience in the arts.”
Programs like “MuseumMaker”—which teaches kids how to gather scientific specimens and exhibit them—and “Learning to Dance”—which exposes children to the history of dance in America—give that real-world experience to students.
“If the student doesn’t learn and engage and find personal meaning, it is not going to go anywhere,” said Anthony D’Agostino, the senior program director for Springboard. “It’s dead from the start. There’s the saying ‘Sage on the stage, guide on the side’ and teaching shouldn’t be just lecturing and having textbooks and doing this rote learning. It needs to be students taking charge of their learning. That’s what good teachers do.”
The organization’s executive director, Cathy Hartmann, said that fun learning experiences actually do impact a student’s performance on standardized testing. In 2014, the organization found that 4.7 percent more students performed proficient or advanced on the MAP test.
“Learning should be fun,” said Hartmann. “If it is not enjoyable, it is not going to be memorable. If it is not memorable, then it is not going to be something that is beneficial throughout your life. While fun isn’t our goal—our goal is to really increase learning and to help students to succeed by doing better in the standard curriculum—but by the same token, it needs to be a little bit of fun and enjoyable for students to tune in and engage with it.”
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