Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Arts Integrated Curriculum Helps Students Overcome Challenges of Poverty

Ronald Treanor, Woodrow Wilson Elementary School, New Jersey

Story posted January, 2008
Results updated September 6, 2013

• In 2012, the school outperformed the state in every test at every grade level, despite serving a significantly higher percentage of students in poverty overall (73% compared to 33%)
• 100% of 3rd grade students met proficiency standards in math and 100% of 4th graders met proficicency standards in science in 2012

Woodrow Wilson is a pre-kindergarten to eighth grade school located in Union City, New Jersey. One of the most densely populated cities in the United States, Union City has a large immigrant population-90 percent of the students are Hispanic-and high rates of poverty. In fact, the city has the lowest median family income in the state, and 84 percent of the school's population is eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch.

Despite its challenges, Woodrow Wilson has developed a rich curriculum that uses the visual and performing arts to help students meet state standards, engage them academically and foster their higher-order thinking skills. This unique program develops their individual creative strengths and talents while giving them the confidence and problem-solving abilities they need to succeed in a challenging new century.

For example, Woodrow Wilson uses the Multiple Intelligence Arts Domain (M.I.A.D.) program, which allows students to explore the arts and academic areas of their choice through hands-on activities and experiences. Two afternoons a week, students and teachers leave their normal classrooms and participate in activities such as ballet, opera, instrumental music, drama, visual arts, architectural design, dance or debate. M.I.A.D. offerings often support the core curriculum: When faculty noticed weaknesses in mathematics assessment results, for example, they developed a M.I.A.D. summer program targeting areas in need of improvement. wilsonballetweb.jpg<

The school encourages students to develop poise before large audiences and take public responsibility for their own learning. Woodrow Wilson students frequently demonstrate their learning through both informal presentations and formal performances of musicals, operas or plays. In addition, seventh- and eighth-graders maintain electronic portfolios of their best work, together with their own written reflections on this work.

Woodrow Wilson has built partnerships with the New York City Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera, among many other arts organizations, to nurture students' talents and give some the chance to perform on the New York City stages. Photographers, poets, playwrights, visual artists, musicians, folklorists and drama specialists regularly come into the school to mentor students and help teachers integrate art into the core curriculum.

The school has been wildly successful. Its school-wide reading and math proficiency rates have grown steadily over the past four years to well over 90%--considerably higher than the state average. In 2004 the U.S. Department of Education recognized Woodrow Wilson's achievements by naming it a Blue Ribbon School.

Woodrow Wilson Elementary has proven that, when aligned to high academic standards, an arts-integrated curriculum can help children discover and expand their own individual talents-and overcome the challenges of poverty.

January 2011 Update: Woodrow Wilson Elementary School continues to exhibit strong academic performances, despite serving a large majority of disadvantaged students. In 2009, 74% of students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, compared to a state avergae of 30%, yet students outperformed the state in 13 of 14 standardized tests between grades 3-8.

Further details about this story can be found in our sources:

LFA's interview with Mimi Bair, current Principal of Memorial Middle School in Little Ferry, NJ, and former staff member at Woodrow Wilson Elementary, February 2008.

Jessica Rosero, for Hudson Reporter, "Woodrow Wilson School Receives Prestigious National Award", October 2004

U.S. Department of Education, "Blue Ribbon School Profile: Woodrow Wilson Elementary School - Weehawken, NJ", 2004

Woodrow Wilson Elementary School, "Application for Blue Ribbon School Designation", September 2003

Woodrow Wilson Elementary School

For additional information, please contact:
Ms. Marie Llanes
Gifted and Talented Coordinator, Woodrow Wilson Elementary School
201 348-2711 


Photos courtesy of Woodrow Wilson Elementary and the Department of Education