MOULTRIE, Ga. — The Georgia Department of Education awarded a total of $260,000 to rural school districts to help them expand the fine arts opportunities available to their students, State School Superintendent Richard Woods announced on Dec. 18. Willie J. Williams Middle School was among the schools selected through the grant process, receiving $10,000.

Williams Middle School art teacher Alisha Montgomery shared that the Art Department will be receiving ten laptop computers, as well as various graphic design software programs.

“Our goal is to increase 21st century graphic design and communication skills through the use of technology and be able to differentiate lessons based on student needs and desires within Georgia Standards of Excellence,” Montgomery said. “The goal is to better prepare students to succeed in a digital world through the visual arts.

“With laptops, we will use Adobe tools such as Spark Post, Spark Video, and Photoshop Elements to create strong, effective graphic design pieces of art,” she said. “Some of the things we hope to do is to create videos to accompany artwork hanging in our halls, posters for area business exhibits, sales, and/or events. The laptops will also be used to increase differentiation capabilities in the classroom. The ability for students to access teacher-created, instructional videos that match their wide variety of ability levels would allow for greater flexibility in the choice of projects to meet each student’s individual needs. This would also allow for the teacher to spend more time one-on-one helping improve techniques and discuss ideas for projects.”

Williams Middle School band teacher Michael Walker shared that grant funds will add ten additional musical instruments, tablets, and music software programs to his program. 

“Our goal is to increase access to instruments for underprivileged students ensuring that their opportunities to participate in band are not diminished due to financial needs,” Walker said. “We will also strive to increase 21st skills through the use of tablets in our continuing efforts to aid students in becoming life-long learners. The instruments will ensure that all students have an opportunity to perform, create, respond, and connect through their participation in a band curriculum as described within the Georgia Standards of Excellence. The tablets will aid us in advancing our band education here at Williams Middle School through the use of technological tools of today, tools that students will ultimately rely on as they move into their careers.

“The tech will take advantage of app-based programs such as Bandmate Chromatic Tuner, Soundcorset Tuner and Metronome, and the Band Tool Box, and a music counting app designed by Phil Tulga,” he said. “Not only do these programs offer beginning and intermediate students an opportunity to effectively check their work as they practice outside of the watchful eye of an instructor, they also provide an opportunity for students to submit performances to the instructor for reference and evaluation. This allows students to continue and enhance their learning of musical concepts even when they are outside of the classroom.”

Twenty rural districts are receiving stART Grants, which can be used to create or expand arts initiatives that significantly improve students’ access to the arts, according to a press release from the Colquitt County School System. The grants are part of the Georgia Department of Education’s broader Partnership for Rural Growth initiative, which seeks to expand the resources available to public school districts in rural Georgia.

“Fine arts education is not an ‘extra’ – it’s a crucial part of a well-rounded education,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said. “We continue to hear from parents, teachers, administrators, and other supporters of public education that they want those expanded opportunities for their students. This is a top priority for us at the department, and we won’t stop until every student in Georgia has access to high-quality arts education.”

Through the stART grants, GaDOE is taking advantage of the flexibility offered within the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to use some federal funds to support arts learning and other programs that provide a well-rounded education to students, the press release said.

   The department has also worked to expand fine arts instruction by hiring a full-time fine arts specialist at the state level, creating new virtual fine arts courses, refreshing standards, increasing the number of creative-industry-aligned high school arts courses, offering professional learning on arts integration for teachers of all content areas, and developing a new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) certification for school districts and a Fine Arts Diploma Seal for graduates.     

All eligible school districts were given the opportunity to apply for the stART Grant funding. For the purposes of the grant, a rural school district is any district currently eligible for funding under the federal Rural Education Achievement Program.

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