Narrator: These first-graders are learning all about opera…
Teacher: Let's give them a round of applause. Take a bow, guys.
Narrator: ...and with the help of professional singers and musicians, they're also becoming writers.
Teacher: How does Papageno feel in the beginning of the story?
Teacher: Very good. And then how do they both feel at the end of our song? It means really, really happy. How did they feel?
Teacher: Exuberance, very good. They feel exuberance...
Narrator: At Corbett Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, the arts enhance instruction in math, reading, writing, science and social studies.
Teacher: What words do you use when you're at the end of a story?
Teacher: Finally, very good.
Narrator: The Arts Infusion Program, now operating in more than 44 schools, it called OMA: Opening Minds through the Arts.
Joan: Opening Minds through the Arts is a program that utilizes the arts to boost student achievement and social growth, one that uses those tools in music, writing, visual arts and dance to make connections for children that are related to their neurological development and to their social growth.
Narrator: OMA is based on brain research showing that the wiring of the left to the right side of the brain takes place between the ages of four and twelve, a time when children learn from different forms of stimulation.
Teacher: Is there something that we're making with ourselves that we're forming? Let's see. Esteban?
Esteban: A pattern.
Teacher: A pattern. What kind of pattern are we making?
Esteban: A high-low pattern.
Narrator: Music helps kindergarten children learn to listen.
Teacher: Our very first shape today is a triangle. Hand on your hips. One, two.
Narrator: Dance helps second-graders learn geometry.
Teacher: Now put your feet apart so you have a triangle in your legs.
Narrator: Fourth-graders study science while learning the violin.
Teacher: How does humidity affect our instrument?
Student: It makes the strings stick to the bridge.
Teacher: It makes...
Narrator: And fifth-graders express their creativity by composing music.
Teacher: So now we need something that repeats, a rhythm that would be here and then it would repeat here.
Joyce: Opening Minds through the Arts really is an academic program that infuses the arts. Because we align it with the state standards, it gives another way for the brain to connect to what children are learning, and the more opportunities that children have to have tactile or physical or all of those responses that may be different than what we are used to learning with, the better they learn.
Narrator: Professional artists from the Tucson Opera, the symphony and the University of Arizona teach in each classroom twice a week.
Kimberly: I always like to sing things in foreign languages, so that really helps the students to observe, and it puts the second-language learners in the same boat as the English-speaking students, because it's in a totally different language that no one knows.
Narrator: Corbett Elementary is a neighborhood school in a working-class section of Tucson. Twenty percent of its students are English-language learners.
Student: My house is dirty. I have to clean it up.
Teacher: Yeah. "Oh, no, my house is dirty."
Joyce: One of the things that the OMA program does, especially for our English-language learners, is provide them with a art form that's connected to learning in a way that they can connect, no matter what language they speak.
Teacher: Does anybody know what this is called when we kind of speak-sing like this? What do we call that in the opera? Recitative. Everybody say "recitative."
Teacher: Get used to it, because this is how we're going to compose music when you write your own opera. Isn't that exciting?
Rachel: Professional artists come in and they just have a wealth of knowledge, but not only do these artists have a firm grasp on their art form but they're able to come in and create lesson plans that teach these things to students while also integrating things like language skills and just 21st-century skills.
Student: We learned a lot of things about opera like subtext and how terms of opera are used, and you get to use your imagination a lot.
Student: Nice bow in your hair.
Student: It's a really good way of learning, because usually when you learn you just read it out of the textbooks, but when you act out stuff and talk about stuff, it really helps you learn better.
Student: Don't be late.
Teacher: I won't.
Student: I won't.
Teacher: So then you rush off and you say, "Good job, dude."
Kimberly: They want the story to be based around some theme from the curriculum. We were thinking social studies might be the best way to go so that we don't...
Narrator: Artists work closely with classroom teachers to plan a semester's curriculum.
Teacher: So my class would be the acts that took place prior to the Revolutionary War, so I don't know how that would…
Teacher: Just tell us what you want them to know about them and we'll figure it out.
Narrator: And the school's full-time arts-integration specialist helps teachers reach specific performance objectives.
Rachel: And we've completed our poetry on that, so this unit's kind of done.
Evelyn: Boys and girls, can you say good morning to Mr. Jones?
Class: Good morning, Mr. Jones.
Narrator: Ninety-three-year-old former businessman Gene Jones initiated the OMA program by funding a pilot project in the year 2000.
Gene: So we started out seven years ago with three schools. We're up to 20,000 kids a day that are impacted by the program. It's a tremendous team effort, and to see the effects of it on the kids, enthusiasm that they have, is just -- it's very thrilling to me.
Nathan: You'll never believe what happened today. The queen of the night, she didn't keep her promise, and now...
Evelyn: We've been working on this opera for about a month, and we've been describing the emotions that these characters are feeling.
Student: Why are you so disappointed, man?
Student: Because the queen of the night didn't -- broke her promise.
Nathan: You see a great increase of their vocabulary from the beginning to the end, and since we write their own operas at the end of the school year, they are coming up with ideas, so you hear it coming right out of their mouths.
Student: Then they buy new wedding rings.
Student: Next they go in an airplane.
Evelyn: At the first quarter I had over half my class not be able to write a word, and since we've been doing this regularly, I have sentences on papers now. I have punctuation. I have not just one sentence; I have maybe three, four sentences. I am so amazed. It works.
Narrator: And independent research confirms that reading, writing and math test scores have dramatically improved.
Class: [singing] The colon says it be a list or a quotation. The punctuation song.
Narrator: Academics aside, the kids and adults of Corbett believe that the arts make this a better place to be.
Student: I like when the people go up on stage and they act and they sing.
Student: They teach you how to do dialogue.
Student: You get to express yourself.
Student: It really helped me how to write.
Student: There's a lot of acting, which I really like doing.
Student: It's kind of fun.
Joyce: I get tears in my eyes when I see children laughing, enjoying their learning. No matter what cultural background, they can connect with the OMA program and improve their academics, which is a very exciting thing.
Narrator: For more information on what works in public education, go to edutopia.org.