Local educators participate in a BRAINworks virtual workshop with the Clark in April 2020. BRAINworks is a grant-funded partnership between MCLA’s Arts Management program and Division of Graduate and Continuing Education, the North Adams Public Schools, and the Berkshire Compact for Education.
Since 2018, the Berkshire Regional Arts Integration Network (BRAINworks) has offered free in-person professional development for local educators, focusing on integrating the arts into their curriculums. But when all schools, public and private, went virtual this year, BRAINworks’ programming became even more crucial.
So when MCLA, too, made the decision to move to remote instruction in March, the BRAINworks team and its arts partners got to work, pivoting its programming so the participating educators could take part via videoconference.
“There was some serious planning before we were able to pivot,” said Dana Schildkraut, BRAINworks’ content manager. “It just speaks to the incredible collaborative nature of our local arts organizations. They were committed to helping the teachers even through a brand new platform.”
BRAINworks is a grant-funded partnership between MCLA’s Arts Management program and Division of Graduate and Continuing Education, the North Adams Public Schools, and the Berkshire Compact for Education. With a vision of expanding arts into county curriculums, the organization works with local arts institutions like IS183 Art School of the Berkshires, WAM Theatre, and Berkshire Theatre Group (photo below).
Via Zoom this spring, nearly 30 local teachers explored virtual exhibits at the Norman Rockwell Museum, then participated in a collage workshop; explored art critique with the Clark; and learned how to execute drama techniques with students in a remote classroom setting with Barrington Stage Co. “This was enlightening for teachers, who were preparing for scenarios where teaching is virtual,” Schildkraut said.
In the three years BRAINworks has operated, it has worked with more than 50 county educators—nearly half from North Adams Public Schools. This means that teachers receiving professional development through the program are represented in all four of the district’s schools. “We’ve seen an enthusiasm for arts integration in those pockets lead to increased collaboration among teachers, particularly between general classroom teachers and arts specialists,” said Leslie Appleget, BRAINworks program coordinator for NAPS. “This type of collaboration is wonderful to see and really demonstrates the dedication these teachers have to working with each other and their students to utilize arts-based strategies as a way to both reach and engage all learners in the classroom.”
As teachers are exposed to local arts and culture institutions, they also learn about opportunities to pass on to their students. “We’re aware of the gaps in Berkshire County—some students are able to access museums and cultural experiences more easily than others,” said Schildkraut. “One of the big things with BRAINworks and partnering with these organizations is that teachers themselves are learning: ‘What does IS183 do? I didn’t know they have a summer camp, maybe I can share that with my students.’ It’s exposure all around.”
BRAINworks surveyed educators over the summer and heard back that teachers are looking for more professional development around social and emotional learning—a logical step during uncertain times caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. So the team is working on developing that programming.
“I feel very fortunate that I get to work with incredible teachers—they are so dedicated to making the lives of their students better,” Schildkraut said. “Seeing that is really humbling. And as someone who is really passionate about the arts, it’s wonderful to know there are more arts coming to these students.”
Learn more about BRAINworks at brainworks.mcla.edu.
Are you an MCLA student, alum, or faculty member? Do you want MCLA to share your story? Please email Creative and Brand Strategy Manager Francesca Olsen at Francesca.Olsen@mcla.edu.