BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ When youngsters study the U.S. Civil War at the Oak Street Elementary School, songs from the era might be part of the lesson. 

What do the words mean? When they might have been sung? What instruments do you hear? What does it say about people’s thoughts?

An initiative is being followed to bring arts into all classes of the day taught at the Oak Street School, and into all parts of the curriculum  _ from social studies to language arts to science _ Oak Street School Principal Jane Costa told the Bernards Township Board of Education on March 25.

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The presentation was a change of pace from past Board of Education meetings that had concentrated on recognizing individual students or sports team achievements. Instead, the board meeting time aimed to show what is happening for all students within the school day.

Costa said music teacher Meredith Rymer has introduced “Music Mondays,” which exposes students and staff to the spectrum of genres, from Aretha Franklin, to Harry Belafonte to the Beachboys, Mozart, Neil Diamond and Dave Brubeck. 

When they hear songs, for instance, younger children are presented with a worksheet with pictures of instruments and asked to circle the ones they hear in the music, and how the sounds make them feel. Older students are encouraged to list the instruments, what sounds they make and write about what it makes them think about.

Playing Sly and the Family Stone’s song “Everyday People” led to a discussion and assembly later that week on diversity, for instance.          

Weaving related arts throughout the school day “not only boosts academic achievement
but also promotes creativity, self-confidence and school pride,” Costa said. An
education article she had read claimed that retention increased 50 percent when
students draw pictures when they are taking notes, she said.

Third graders organized a recent showcase on the theme of kindness and all children participated, Costa said. They wrote scripts, created original art or researched and edited slides, and made decisions for themselves about how they would contribute to the final product.

"It wasn't meant to be perfect. It was meant to be a reflection of what they learned and the best way for them to creatively express that,” said teacher Rymer.