Kennedy Center representative Jeanette McCune, far left, and others, observe as Hamilton County students, from left, Brandon Oaks, Maya McCain, Jaiden Asberry and Vrusha Sunklkumar Patel unveil a banner announcing the 4th year of the Hamilton Sings event Tuesday morning at First Baptist Church in downtown Chattanooga. Fifty teachers and 170 students participated in this years event.

Hamilton County Schools and ArtsBuild have announced a new partnership with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in an effort to give all children better access to arts education.

Chattanooga and Hamilton County were selected as the 26th site for the Kennedy Center's Ensuring the Arts for Any Given Child program, which has helped communities across the nation create long-range plans for providing art to students in grades K-8 for almost a decade.

In an era when student scores on math, reading and science tests are heavily tracked, some researchers say arts education — music, visual arts, and theater — can contribute to student success.

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Walace A. Smith teacher Dustin Dotzler, top center, leads a group of fifth grade students in the Heel to Toe Polka during a break from choral practice for Tuesday's Hamilton Sings performance at First Baptist Church in downtown Chattanooga. Fifty teachers and 170 students participated in this years event.


› Claire Stockman, related arts lead teacher, Hamilton County Schools

› Isaac Duncan III, artist and ArtsBuild board member

› Kathy Lennon, school board member, Hamilton County Schools

› Laurie Melnik, executive director, Southeast Center

› Rodney Van Valkenburg, director of grants and initiatives, ArtsBuild

› Rowena Belcher, community volunteer and ArtsBuild board member

› Alex Loza, artist and founder of Center for Latin American Visual Artists

› Amy Medley, dean of Fine Arts, Chattanooga High Center for the Arts

› Ana VanCura, executive director, Ballet Tennessee

› Ann Law, founding director, Barking Legs Theatre

› Ashley Conrad, director of policy and research, Unified

› Charlie Newton, individual artist and founder of SPLASH

› Dawn Oakes, artistic director and choral director, Chattanooga Boys Choir

› Edna Varner, educational consultant and ArtsBuild board member, Project Inspire

› Geoff Millner, tech equity officer, The Enterprise Center

› Jason McKinney, youth and family development, City of Chattanooga

› Jayne Griffin, director of education, Creative Discovery Museum

› Jennifer Andrews, program and engagement manager, Chattanooga 2.0

› Juana Wilson Roberts, fine arts coordinator, Barger Academy of Fine Arts

› Karissa Barclay, community volunteer

› Kate Skonberg, teacher engagement coordinator, Public Education Foundation

› Katherine Clem, research and grants specialist, Hamilton County Schools

› Kris Bespalec-Davis, education, Hunter Museum of American Art

› Kristy Huntley, program manager, Benwood Foundation

› Mary Tanner, ArtsBuild board president

› Rebecca Suttles, director of scholarships, Community Foundation

› Rondell Crier, artist and founder of Studio Everything

› Staci Spring, director of education, Chattanooga Symphony and Opera

› Sybil Tobel, vice president marketing and communications, Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce

Arts education fosters critical deeper learning skills, such as collaboration and perseverance, in students, according to a report by the Education Commission of the States published in September 2017. Arts education can help students master academic content, think critically and solve complex problems, work collaboratively and communicate effectively — which is why local supporters are seeking to expand arts education's reach in Hamilton County.

"The arts are a key element to a quality education experience for our children in Hamilton County Schools, and we are excited about the opportunities the Any Given Child initiative will provide in our schools," said Bryan Johnson, superintendent of Hamilton County Schools, during Tuesday's announcement. "The arts community in the area is very strong, and we appreciate our partnership with ArtsBuild and the Kennedy Center in opening the door to tremendous possibilities for our children's future."

The Kennedy Center is one of the nation's leading arts programs, which works in a variety of spaces across the country to provide arts education to children, support cultural events and engage with artists and college students.

"The arts engage the whole child in creative thinking, collaboration, cross-cultural understanding, and communication. It inspires and transforms students, supporting them in becoming life-long learners as well as future citizens," said Jeanette McCune, director of school and community programs at the Kennedy Center.

Hamilton County's inclusion in the program comes as Johnson and the community have increased efforts to provide equitable arts education.

In his FY 2018-19 budget, Johnson included funding for seven new art teachers and hired a district-level lead arts teacher.

"We knew we had areas we wanted to invest in and one of the things we heard from the community is that the arts are important," Johnson said. "It's an exciting time for our community."

Tuesday's announcement was planned for the same day as the fourth annual "Hamilton Sings!" The event, which brings together more than 150 fifth-grade students representing every school in Hamilton County for a day of workshops, rehearsals and music lessons, culminated in a performance at First Baptist Church on Tuesday night.

The program began five years ago through the Public Education Foundations Teacherpreneur Incubator under the leadership of Claire Stockman, now the district's lead arts teacher, and Charlene Cook.

"It's been a dream for quite a long time," Cook said. "This is much bigger than any choir [the students] could be a part in at any given school. When you come together and have a mindset that this can be done, you realize you can learn with other people."

The Kennedy Center partnership brings together community stakeholders — elected officials, nonprofit organizations, businesses and organizations, including the school district, ArtsBuild and more — to develop a plan for spreading resources, building capacity and serving all communities.

This year will be a "learning year," said Rodney Van Valkenburg, director of grants and initiatives for ArtsBuild. "We have some great arts resources here, so how do we make sure there is a bridge to these resources?"

Van Valkenburg also added that connecting individual artists to classrooms and which communities have access and which don't are key things he hoped the partners will explore.

There are three phrases to the five-year program: the strategic planning phase in year one, including an audit of existing arts education; the implementation phase in years two, three and four; and the sustaining phrase in year five and beyond. The partnerships also exists thanks to a funding pledge of $25,000 from the local community and $100,000 from the Kennedy Center for each of the five years.

"We believe that student achievement will only increase when the arts are part of a well-rounded education, so we are excited to move arts education to the next level through the Any Given Child Initiative," said Dan Bowers, president of ArtsBuild, in a statement.

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.


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Conductor Sarah Tullock directs a group of 5th grade Hamilton County students during practice for the 4th year of Hamilton Sings Tuesday morning at First Baptist Church in downtown Chattanooga. Fifty teachers and 170 students participated in this years event.