Nov. 16, 2021
Alyssa Wilson is the new executive director of Arkansas A+ Schools. Her background in education, the arts and museums make her well-positioned to lead the program.
Arkansas A+ also has a new program director, Shelby Patterson, who joined the team this week. Patterson has a wide-ranging background in non-profit work, program administration and K-12 classroom experience.
Arkansas A+ provides professional development, networking and research data to its member schools. The focus is incorporating the arts into subjects like literacy, math, science and history.
“A+ is a whole framework that was created to transform an entire school using eight essentials,” Wilson said. “These essentials touch every teacher, administrator and student and can cause large-scale change for a district.”
The Windgate Foundation in Siloam Springs awarded the College of Education and Health Professions at the U of A a five-year grant to support the program in 2018.
Wilson and Patterson are excited to expand the arts — which encompasses music, theatre, dance and visual arts like drawing or painting — into new schools. Each of these art forms can connect to subjects in the classroom and enhance learning, Wilson said.
“Think about using dance and movement to learn a math concept or theatre to demonstrate understanding of a historical moment,” she explained. “These art forms can and have been shown through studies to transform the way that students learn, and better yet, retain that information. When you see this happening in a classroom, it can be truly magical.”
Wilson was most recently the museum manager at Peel Compton Foundation in Bentonville. She’s also an arts integration specialist. Her previous positions at Arkansas Arts Academy — a school in the Arkansas A+ network — Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and The Saint Louis Art Museum highlighted the importance of the arts on students’ lives.
She discovered its transformative power as a child. “The arts, especially visual art, have always held a special place for me,” she said. “Beginning at a young age, I loved to create … sketches, paintings, sculpture. I remember coming alive through art classes in school.”
She recalled her first trip to The Art Institute of Chicago. “I’ll never forget that visit. The paintings almost spoke to me,” she said.
That experience led to a degree in fine art and a master’s degree in museum studies. “Art, visual and performing, are a part of my very being, and that is part of why I applied for this role,” she said. “I believe it is incredibly important to connect our youth to the arts. The arts can cause them to come alive — as in my case — and the arts and creativity can enhance their learning and propel them to greater things as they grow up in our ever-changing world.”
Patterson was the Assistant Director of Education and Community Programs for The Orpheum Theatre, a performing arts center in Memphis, Tennessee. She worked with teachers, teaching artists and school administration to develop large-scale programs. She has also been a middle school teacher. Most recently, Patterson served as the development and database specialist for a non-profit. The search committee, which included five Arkansas A+ fellows, was impressed by her breadth of work and forward-thinking presentation. Patterson will have an office at the U of A Pulaski Technical College in Little Rock.
Wilson is in Northwest Arkansas.
Wilson worked on one of her most rewarding projects while the arts integration coordinator at the Arkansas Arts Academy, a K-12 charter school in Rogers. She worked with the school’s third- and fourth-grade teachers to expand their classrooms to museum galleries through “My School, My Museum.” Students visited museums four times a semester.
“They began to feel that the museum was part of their classroom experience and looked forward to these regular arts integration projects where we connected visual arts to their math, science, English-language arts and social studies curriculum,” Wilson said.
She shared an example of connecting a science lesson about the study of balanced and unbalanced forces — like push, pull, gravity and friction — to the artwork of master artist Alexander Calder and his famous mobiles.
The A+ team is excited to see the A+ Philosophy, which includes lessons like these, become a part of the framework of schools across Arkansas. Wilson and Patterson are actively recruiting and inviting additional schools to join with Arkansas A+ and begin the process of implementation. Interested schools should contact the team to find out more.