On April 3, Sen. Mazie Hirono visited Hokulani Elementary School to see arts integration in action. She met with a fourth-grade class deep into the Honolulu Museum of Art’s Art Seed program, which gives students and teachers the chance to engage in an extended learning experience that integrates art and science within a real-world context.

As part of the program, the museum sends resident teaching artists to the school. Since the start of the school year, Zoe Liu has been working with Hokulani third and fifth graders, while Leslie Fleming is working with fourth graders. In the fall term the class focused on art, and this spring the focus is on science.

A student's notebook filled with silkworm observations.

A student’s notebook filled with mosquito larvae observations.

“We knew students needed field journaling skills for the science part, so we started by drawing plants—looking at them closely and learning to do contour drawings,” says Fleming. “It culminated in a project that had students using watercolor oil pastels to draw a large flower based on Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings. Kids tend to draw symbolically, and fourth graders are at the age where they can grasp drawing what they see.”

Kids have made plasticine insects—honing their sculpting skills and entomology knowledge.

Kids have made plasticine insects—honing their sculpting skills and entomology knowledge.

The students also made plasticine insects to create a stop-motion animation illustrating an insect adapting to a change in its environment, and visited the Insect Museum at the University of Hawai‘i.

“Arts integration works,” says Fleming. “As an art teacher, you need both—art for its own sake and also as a tool to integrate with other studies. It is also a way to reach kids who thrive with other kinds of academic learning.”

Hirono’s visit was the result of a series of kismet. Hokulani principal Laurie Luczak had visited the senator when she was in Washington, D.C., recently for a national leadership conference. They talked about arts integration and Title IV funds, which helps support federal student aid programs. Then in March, Luczak wrote about arts integration in the monthly newsletter she sends to parents, teachers, and community partners, spotlighting Hokulani’s fourth-grade team.

In the meantime, Hirono had told Donalyn Dela Cruz, the Department of Education’s director of communications, that she was interested in visiting a school with a successful arts integration and mentoring program. Dela Cruz saw Luczak’s newsletter and forwarded it to Hirono’s office.

“Everything aligned,” says Luczak. “The senator spoke with teachers about arts integration and Art Seed. She asked if it has impacted how they teach, and they said yes, it has shifted how they teach. The process takes lots of time and effort, but it’s so much better for the children. Hirono said it was great to visit such a happy school and she wished that all students had this kind of experience.”

The students are raising silkworms to learn about the life cycle, and Hirono shared with them that her family has a history of silkworm farming.

“I’m always looking for ways to bring art programs here,” says Luczak. “I love that students go out in the field and learn from different people. It’s a chance for kids to experience different kinds of learning. Not everyone is strong at writing an essay—I like to give students the chance to demonstrate their learning in different ways. It empowers them. They have to think about what they do best and how they can show that.

Hokulani holds an annual end-of-year Aloha Assembly for fifth graders. Traditionally the event has centered around a skit. This year, for the first time, the assembly will include singing and an art showcase, says Luczak. “So parents can come and see what their children have created.”