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School’s out, and the United Arts Council Arts Integration Institute (Now that’s a mouthful!) is in full swing. This is one of my favorite weeks of the year, when elementary school teachers from all over Wake County, North Carolina converge to draw, print, paint, dance, write, sing, play and act out the curriculum in a week of hands-on workshops and lesson planning. We created the Arts Integration Institute way back in the dark ages of 2006 – when we used to write our poems on stone tablets with chisels – and it’s been going strong ever since.

IMG_0667Over the years, our teachers have learned to make their own shadow puppets to bring fables, myths and fairy tales to life. They’ve danced the water cycle, the rock cycle, pressure systems and punctuation. They’ve acted out civil rights, become immigrants to America in 1901, and written letters overseas from the home front in World War II. They’ve ventured on treasure hunts into the world of Multiple Intelligences and made colorful three-dimensional maps of their brains. They’ve built bugs from plastic bottles, created Claymation ecosystems, and extracted poetry from scientific concepts. They’ve written their own blues and released the composers trapped inside themselves—even those who didn’t believe they could carry a tune in a bucket. They’ve explored Cuba, Ghana and Zimbabwe through music, and Appalachia through photography and poetry. They’ve written and performed a 1920s musical in the North Carolina Museum of History in a mere three hours and used their X-ray vision to conjure poetry and paintings from satellite maps of their favorite places.

525798_10151215435082388_2003705076_nAnd everything they’ve done, they’ve brought back to their classrooms to make magic of the curriculum, to get their students excited about learning, and to remind themselves of why they became teachers in the first place.

Can you tell I love this week?

This is the week when I get to extend my love for poetry into all the arts, to be both Piedmont Laureate and Pied Piper.

It’s a treat for me to make sure these teachers are well-fed (okay, we make sure they’re spectacularly well-fed, with a steady stream of tasty treats from mid-morning snacks to a feast at lunch to mid-afternoon snacks) in body and – as you can see from the types of adventures I’ve listed above – in their minds and spirits. And it’s a treat for all of us who create this institute each year to make sure that all these teachers are treated as the professionals, the artists, the musicians, the dancers, the actors, the writers and the all-around creative geniuses they are.

This year, teachers researched nocturnal animals and recreated them in drawings and prints, delved into Westward Expansion by creating characters and scripts (and performing them) using photographs from the time, became literate in art through sketching and poetry, danced about weather and rocks, found rhythm in their hands and feet and melody in the voices and the oh so delightfully named boomwhackers, and wrote lesson plans that will – when these teachers return to school this fall – entice their students into a delightful land of learning they’ll want to inhabit for the rest of their lives.