VAPA in Burlingame Schools

Updated: Aug 20, 2018

Written By: Elisa Lee

Sometimes it’s hard to know what kind of education is best for our kids when the world is changing so rapidly. The Burlingame School District (“BSD”) has been thinking long and hard about how to best adapt our schools in preparation for the future. As parents, we may be familiar with BSD’s mission of implementing the necessary 21stcentury skills and 4C’s (Creativity, Collaboration, Communication and Critical Thinking) into our schools’ curriculum. But many parents, myself included, may not know that the visual and performing arts (VAPA) also play a critical role in these necessary 21stcentury skills.

What Is Arts Integration?

Parents of a certain age may remember art in school as a regular class taught by a credentialed art teacher. California’s passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 and the ensuing decreased funding for schools, however, has now made hiring full-time credentialed art teachers very difficult.

In the last decade, the provision of art in Burlingame public schools began to vary from site to site depending on specific school interest, parent volunteers and PTA funds.

Understanding the importance of VAPA and interested in the model of implementing art through an arts integration curriculum, BSD began working with Arts Ed Matters, a non-profit arts advocacy organization. Arts Ed has now been helping design and implement arts integration in each of the Burlingame schools for the past three years.

“The goal was to provide consistency and standardization in the ways teachers integrate art into the curriculum and to also provide a sustainable way to implement VAPA at each school,” says Michelle Holdt, the founding executive director of Arts Ed Matters. Holdt, a passionate advocate for arts in the schools, is an arts integration specialist and theater educator who is also the VAPA Coordinator for the San Mateo County Office of Education.

So instead of piecemeal programs that differ from school to school, the goal has been for all Burlingame schools to receive consistent and standardized arts integration into the curriculum. Arts integration utilizes arts skills and techniques throughout the teaching of various subjects. The Kennedy Center for Performing Arts defines arts integration as “an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process that connects an art form and another subject area and meets evolving objects in both.”

Arts integration helps your child in ways that go beyond discrete art skills. The Association of American Educators believes arts integration “has been linked to across the board achievement and retention increases… Research suggests that the link to increased retention is due to the fact that each time a student uses information in a new and different way, they embed the information slightly more into their brain.”1

How Is VAPA Integrated in Burlingame?

Arts Ed Matters has been using both a teacher development model and a coaching-based guest artist model in its work with BSD. Arts integration specialists from Arts Ed have worked with teachers and administrators throughout the year in developing curriculum and providing professional workshops, guest visits and coached classroom lessons.

You may have met someone from Arts Ed Matters at one of the three annual Family Arts nights run by Arts Ed Matters at your elementary school. Topics this year included creation of personal family symbols, working with shadow puppets, dying fabric and the study of light and Indonesian culture. This year BSD also participated in the STEM Fair and Arts Expo by showcasing over 200 pieces of art from Burlingame students.

Other interesting projects that have been happening in BSD include a 4-week camp in which different teams attended VAPA workshops and culminated in a school-wide play. In another school, fourth graders worked with Arts Ed Matters to research people from historical periods being studied in class. They used theater techniques to embody those characters in movement, thought and belief system and then interviewed and answered each other in character. Just imagine Paul Revere interviewing Anne Frank!

Is Art Really That Important?

For parents focused on STEM classes or the priorities of traditional core classes, art may feel like a “nice to have” but not a “must have.” But skills in VAPA have been increasingly found to have tremendous importance in the kinds of skills needed for the future.

Artist Justin Timbrook advocates the idea that creativity is one of the most valuable skills education should foster in these changing times. “Technological advancements will always outpace the offerings of the traditional classroom, making it entirely purposeless to force memorization of knowledge that may become irrelevant before children even graduate. Instead we should hone the skill that best ensures adaptability and resourcefulness during times of constant change. It’s time for the creative classroom.”2

The skills that VAPA impart have everything to do with how a person will survive in a world that is changing almost faster than we can keep up.

“Research shows that this kind of integrated learning will better prepare kids for the job market,” says Holdt. “Industry and business in the future will not be in boxes. It will be cross disciplinary and kids need to be learning in a way that is cross disciplinary and integrated.” It make sense that in a world where the only thing we know for sure is that things will change, job seekers will need to show flexibility and creativity. In fact, an IBM survey of 1500 CEOs did rank creativity as the most important leadership quality they are looking for in workers.3

I’m In. How Can We Get More Art?

Next year, Arts Ed will be collaborating with BSD Director of Innovation Bruce Duncan’s Innovating for Impact Initiative to develop VAPA elements in the innovation programs being implemented in our schools.

In the future, parent committees that provide support and receive training to support arts at each school site may be set up at each school and with more funding, more guest artist visits and programming could be possible.

The public schools in California rank near the bottom of the country in per pupil spending.4 In an environment of tight budgets and tough choices, many school districts sacrifice VAPA and music. Burlingame has been a leader in the Bay Area in its commitment to its music and arts programs and that has been made possible by the additional funding BSD receives from the Burlingame Community for Education Foundation (BCE).

BCE is funded primarily by parents so our rich arts and music programs exist because of you!

1Pratt, Melissa. (2013, January 18). “The Benefits of Arts Integration”[Blog Post]. Retrieved from

2Timbrook, Justin. (2015, February 15). “Want Your Children to Survive the Future? Send Them to Art School.” Retrieved from

3IBM (2010). “Capitalizing on Complexity: Insights from the 2010 IBM Global CEO Study.”  Retrieved from

4Nichols, Chris (2018, January 17). “Mostly True: California ranks 41st on per student spending but No.1 per prisoner.” Retrieved from:

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