The Outside-the-Box Educator
by Jacob Shafer
Hawaii’s public education system is broken. Our schools are failing, our teachers are overburdened and our keiki are falling further and further behind. Just don’t tell Susana Browne.
“There are so many wonderful teachers and principals doing good work,” says Browne, director of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Arts in Education program. “It’s frustrating to see mostly bad news reported.” Browne acknowledges there are problems—many of them, she says, stemming from the crippling requirements of standardized testing—but she remains hopeful.
A big part of her optimism stems from the Arts in Education program itself, which teaches teachers how to be, well, better teachers. The idea is simple yet revolutionary: use art—both visual and performance—to teach every subject. “When children are active and engaged,” says Browne, “they’re much more likely to learn.” Since its inception 15 years ago, the program has trained about 800 teachers.
Browne says the “three Rs” should be supplemented by the “four Cs”: critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration. “If you’re engaged in the arts, those things are going to automatically happen,” she says. “And those are the big 21st century skills that the business community and universities are looking for.”
Browne points to Kahului’s Pomaikai’i Elementary as an example of arts education in action. Founded in 2007, the school has managed to teach through the arts and meet the stringent requirements of No Child Left Behind. “It’s a steep learning curve,” Browne admits. “But when you visit the campus, you see something amazing: happy teachers—and happy kids.”
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE from MauiTime’s January 13 cover story “20 for ’11: Who Matters on Maui?” featuring twenty movers and shakers in art, food and politics who are shaping our island’s future.