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Adventures in English Learning (KY)


"...Exploring vocabulary through theatrical expression promotes exploration and improvisation in a safe and fun learning environment. "


Arts Education in Summer Programs

Target Audience:

Migrant Education Program (MEP) Staff, Community Arts Educators


Monies from Fayette County Public Schools’ 2020 Vision grant helped support the collaboration. The 2020 Vision grant grew out of a civic project in 2005 focused on improving education in the county, with 21 work groups focusing on different issues in education, including arts. As the work group cites in its research rationale, arts helps students gain skills in expressing ideas, finding meanings in information, exploring scenarios from multiple perspectives, and identifying complex relationships—all of which are important skills for academic subjects (Burton, Horowitz, and Abeles, 2000).

The Fayette County MEP emphasizes these types of skills in its summer program (80 hours of instruction over the four-week program). In looking for strategies to engage migrant students and families, an MEP advocate with a background in fine arts found an opportunity through the 2020 Vision grant to bring in the arts. Not only do the arts make academic learning fun, they also support the social and emotional growth of students as they build self-confidence and learn to work as a team, with all team members playing a valuable role.

KY Childrens Theater king and queen

The theater program has helped welcome children into the learning community. English language barriers contribute to students’ feelings of alienation. Exploring vocabulary through theatrical expression promotes exploration and improvisation in a safe and fun learning environment. Students practice “stepping lively” quite literally, or what it means to “delve into something.” Many of the migrant summer students have little or no experience with a live theater production. The play gives them a chance to bring to life the reading material and gives them an introduction to what live theater is all about.

A children’s play is a great opportunity to host a parent workshop. One barrier to implementing effective parent involvement meetings is parent attendance, particularly during the summer season when parents are busy in the fields. The play is always well attended because parents want to see their children perform and to celebrate their theatrical success. The MEP hosts an ice cream social following the play which provides an outreach opportunity to engage migrant families. The coordinator refers to these as “refrigerator moments”—just as parents will hang student work on the refrigerator to show value, these informal gatherings will often lead to dialogue about MEP services and input from parents is valued no matter how small a suggestion.


Kentucky’s Fayette County MEP has partnered with the Lexington Children’s Theater for the past two years to promote education through the arts in its summer programming. The four-week summer session is designed to incorporate an integrated approach to learning, with a focus on students at transition points in their schooling career. The curriculum is linguistically rich, with many students being English learners (ELs). Arts educators from the Lexington Children’s Theater, with assistance from Berea College students, work with the migrant children for two weeks of the summer program to learn the basics of acting. In the process of putting on performances such as “The Stinky Cheese Man,” “The Really Ugly Duckling,” and “The Princess and the Bowling Ball,” students learn to practice their expressive natures. The theater production provides an engaging and fun way to learn about language: What does it mean to “step lively”? Can you make a rumbling sound? What is the role of a narrator? Students also learn to create costumes and masks. Stage blocking incorporates mathematical thinking through mapping and spatial relationships.

In addition to the blend of academics and arts education, there is a parent involvement component. Migrant families receive a copy of the book upon which the play is based to read with their children at home (e.g., The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, etc.). The students also receive a backpack with resources like flash cards, vocabulary blocks and other hands-on materials to reinforce reading, mathematics and science at home. The Fayette County MEP holds a parent meeting in conjunction with the final performance to engage migrant families in the program.

Student impacts:

The Fayette County MEP’s goal for the summer program is to prevent learning loss and help secondary students earn credits toward graduation. Program staff members use various instruments, depending on grade level, to assess where students are at the beginning of the summer in order to make data driven decisions. For preschool students, the MEP uses a kindergarten readiness skills checklist. For K-12 students, the MEP uses the state’s Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) testing to measure growth. This analysis also helps determine which students need summer intervention the most. At the end of the summer program, staff evaluate gains, if any. The program has noted that most of their summer students are below grade level at the beginning of the term. Data show that students participating in the program do not lose academic ground in the summer but the MEP would like to see more growth. A student survey provides qualitative feedback on impacts. The theater program helps them feel less “nervous to speak in front of people” and sparks an interest in pursuing opportunities during the school year.


Burton, J.M., Horowitz, R., and Abeles, H. (2000). Learning in and through the arts: The question of transfer. Studies in Art Education, 41(3), 228-257.

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Lessons Learned

Engage with community partners early in the summer

The arts educators from the Lexington Children’s Theater worked with MEP staff to decide on a plan of action for the arts curriculum. Then the Theater team did a brief lesson with the students to pique their interest.

Share your vision of the summer program with migrant families at the start

The MEP uses every opportunity to engage with their families. With the allure of the theatrical performance, the MEP capitalizes on the students’ and parents’ enthusiasm for doing a play to meet with families and set expectations for the summer programming. Parents receive backpacks with academic supplies and MEP staff demonstrate how to use the materials with children at home during the summer. Parents tend to be excited about helping their actors and actresses rehearse at home.

Do not be afraid to try new things

Engaging migrant students and parents during the summer session can be challenging, particularly when students are not feeling successful academically. The arts and other forms of experiential education like field trips introduce learning in the context of exploration and fun. The Fayette County MEP collaboration with the Lexington Children’s Theater grew out of the enthusiasm and perseverance of migrant and school district educators to promote arts in the curriculum.

Sample Lesson activities

The Lexington Children’s Theatre offers electronic guides for teachers to help their students prepare for a trip to see a live performance at the theatre. These guides are aligned with Kentucky’s Core Content (KCC) state standards.

Contact Information

Mr. Michael D. Dailey
Associate Director for Student Achievement and Support
Federal, State and Magnet Programs
Fayette County Public Schools
Phone: (859) 381-4184