i3 Grantee Lessons: District 75, New York City

Posted by Peggy Ryan, Jul 15, 2011 0 comments

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation competition awarded District 75 (New York City’s special education district) and Manhattan New Music Project (MNMP), a $4.6 million, five-year grant to develop and implement Everyday Arts for Special Education (EASE).

EASE is a professional development program designed to improve student achievement in the areas of communication, socialization, academic learning, and arts proficiency through integrated, arts-based approaches.

EASE gives teachers tools and experience with arts-based instruction, and participating teachers learn skills and strategies across multiple arts disciplines (music, dance, visual arts, and theater) in order to integrate the arts into classroom instruction. This makes learning more accessible to special education students who struggle with more conventional instructional approaches.

EASE is based on research from a previous grant, Communication and Socialization Through the Arts, which presented compelling evidence that integrated arts instruction can help address core communication and socialization deficits in students on the autism spectrum.

The i3 competition’s recognition of the excellence of this past work has enabled District 75 and Manhattan New Music Project to expand the arts-based methodology to more schools, teachers, and students, and across a wider range of disability, including cognitive disability, emotional disturbance, and severe learning disability.

As Project Director of EASE and ARTS Instructional Support Specialist for District 75, Kathy London’s knowledge of the i3 grant application process is extensive. We asked Kathy to compare the application process to other projects she’s been involved with:

“The i3 grant application differed from past large scale federal Arts In Education grant applications in that it required obtaining private-sector matching funds within a short time frame.  The Fund for Public Schools played an active role in making that match, enabling EASE to secure the federal award.”  

After reviewing the reviewers’ comments on the EASE i3 grant application, we also asked Kathy what she feels was most competitive about their application. She suggested the following:

  • The need for the program is clear and measurable, with 23,000 students with severe disabilities throughout New York’s five boroughs that will all benefit from the program.
  • EASE is a “highly unique” program with an active learning approach overlapping the areas of arts education and disability, making it the only i3 application of its kind.
  • The program is an innovative, cross-disciplinary approach involving participating teachers learning skills and strategies across multiple arts disciplines in order to integrate the arts into classroom instruction. This makes learning more accessible to special education students.
  • The project is sustainable due to the teacher training component and funding sources to continue the project after this grant. Private funders have pledged an additional $634,000.
  • The plan is well constructed with specific achievable objectives. The management timeline shows a commitment of D75 to ensure accountability for each individual task by providing very narrow timeframes instead of broad annual timeframes. The very detailed budget narrative provides information to ensure the project stays within budget.
  • District 75 and project partner Manhattan New Music Project, have a strong working relationship of nine years of collaboration, and are skilled in this process of designing and implementing large-scale multidisciplinary arts education programs throughout NYC.
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