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There are many things that make Summit View Elementary School different.

Teachers don't have desks, there are no computers (all students are provided with iPads) and art decorates the halls, including a 'permanent art gallery' made of student art. Each year Summit View buys two pieces of art from its students to add to its collection.

All of that has produced some notable results in terms of education, as a whole.

Three years after it became a magnet school, the arts integrated elementary school has been named a National Magnet School of Excellence by Magnet Schools of America, the national association for magnet and theme-based schools.

The learning experience at Summit View focuses on integrating arts, design and creativity into each lesson, combining rigorous math, intensive science, literacy and problem solving with art forms like music, movement and fine art.

Magnet's drawing power

This is Jeff Peterson's seventh year as Summit View principal, and he was the driving factor behind the switch to become a magnet school.

Peterson was on the committee for a fine arts school several years ago, but he realized that he could do everything school officials wanted right at Summit View, without all of the hurdles that STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) charter schools were facing. He went the magnet-school route instead.

There is a significant difference between a fine arts school and an integrated arts school. Fine arts schools traditionally take a genre of art where a child excels and focuses on making the child better at that genre, while an integrated arts school exposes children to a variety of art forms.

'We let them identify what they want to know more about or what they may have a strength in, and we let them pursue that,' Peterson said.

Arts integration requires meeting objectives in arts standards and content-area standards. To be a true arts-integrated lesson, teachers have to combine a principle of art or design and incorporate it into a social studies, math or science lesson to meet both the art and content target.

Third-graders, for example, are currently learning about fractions. During this unit, they compose pieces with quarter notes, half notes and full notes in addition to adding or subtracting fractions, combining a math concept and a music concept that are traditionally both learned in isolation.

'(It) is a pretty efficient way to learn, too, and that really deepens the understanding of concepts,' Peterson said.

The specials programs at Summit View function differently as well. Music and physical education classes are typically a few days a week, but with many of these concepts built into classroom lessons, Summit restructured its academic time to include Experiment Possibilities Inviting Creativity, or EPIC.

EPIC is an intensive arts integration experience where students are learning academic instruction through a specialized, rotating, weeklong program. Third through fifth grades participate in EPIC lessons like designing, creating and testing their own snowshoes or exploring mindfulness and body awareness.

Summit View is looking to expand EPIC to its K4 through second-grade classes.

Success through art

Peterson senses the satisfaction generated by the program's success.

'I think we get to know our students at a very different level through arts integration,' Peterson said. 'I think you get to see students be successful in areas that you might not tap into in a traditional school.'

An example of this can be seen in a second-grade classroom. A student who was a struggling reader, who had trouble decoding words on a page for comprehension, could express literacy once the teacher held up a piece of art in front of the class that was connected to a story.

Peterson also said that since transitioning into a magnet school, students aren't the only ones getting educational satisfaction in the classroom.

'It was important for me, as the leader of this building, to bring back joy to the classrooms, to have teachers that experience job satisfaction again, to have students who felt good being in a place because their teachers felt good being in that place,' Peterson said.

Bryanna Madsen, a fourth-grader at Summit View, seems to have found her happy place. Before attending Summit View, she was a student at two other elementary schools. Bryanna, an aspiring actress, participated in Summit View's festival of living art. Discussing George Seurat and Pointillism with Peterson, she showed him how she and other students composed music using GarageBand on their iPads.

'We give students an opportunity to learn different ways to communicate what they know beyond the traditional ways of writing a book report or completing a research paper,' Peterson said. 'When you're able to communicate what you know in the way that's most comfortable for you — whether that's music, art or public speaking — that's what educators care about in terms of assessment.'

Broader efforts

The school is also bringing in community partners to prepare arts experiences for the younger students.

It has local partnerships with Liberty Dance, a dance organization, as well as the Waukesha Civic Theatre and First Stage. Through those local partnerships, Summit View also has a national partnership with Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Summit View was able to make this change cost-neutral, without receiving any additional funds from the district or from charter school grants. Magnet schools have a three-year rolling grant application process. Summit View is entering their first grant cycle this year, and have plans on applying for a charter school grant, Peterson explained.

A part of the Innovative Schools Network (ISN), Summit View Elementary was asked to plan and present a Midwest arts integration conference. The school will co-sponsor that event with the ISN and co-plan with the Kennedy Center, bringing what used to be on the national level to the Midwest.

Jeff Peterson will be recognized and receive a National Magnet School of Excellence Merit Award during an awards ceremony held at Magnet Schools of America's 34th National Conference in Miami.

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