Partners in Learning

Partners in Learning
Nov 08, 2023

Long-Standing Partnership Provides Backdrop for Central Indiana Wolf Trap and Its Work with Indiana Head Start Educators

Ploi Pagdalian, senior director of programs for Arts for Learning Indiana, was first approached by Indianapolis-based Family Development Services (FDS) to bring children’s performances to its schools 20 years ago. What began as a one-year engagement has expanded to a multi-year partnership that each year helps support more than 1,400 infants and children in Marion and Hamilton counties through the Head Start and Early Head Start programs managed through FDS.

Teresa Rice, Head Start director at FDS, outlines her agency’s work with its community: “The families we serve are one hundred percent below the poverty level, so we provide comprehensive services that meet the needs of families with young children of diverse backgrounds, some who have special accommodations in the classroom, and some for whom English is not their first language.”

The families FDS works with are predominantly African American, but the organization also serves families of Latin, Arabic, Asian, and Haitian-Creole origin. Together, they create goals that produce positive, equitable outcomes through education, health services, and other support resources.

For the bulk of its partnership with FDS, Arts for Learning Indiana’s work has predominantly served its older Head Start classrooms, but as FDS recognized that arts integration could also be valuable for its younger children and their teachers, the organization turned to Arts for Learning Indiana to help expand its offerings to all its classrooms. That request led Arts for Learning Indiana to partner with Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts to form Central Indiana Wolf Trap in 2020. 

Pagdalian believed that the Wolf Trap’s expertise in early childhood learning would enable her Arts for Learning Indiana to engage with FDS’ Head Start classrooms in a deeper and richer way through arts-integrated residencies. “Before our partnership with Wolf Trap, our work with Head Start teachers primarily consisted of performances and workshops. But Wolf Trap gave us the competency in early childhood education that we needed to fulfill FDS’ language and literacy needs for its Early Head Start programs.”

Partners in Learning

While the pandemic limited what Central Indiana Wolf Trap could do in person in the first few years of its affiliation, it did allow its staff time to plan for future services. One such service included a series of professional development workshops for FDS’ Head Start and Early Head Start teachers that took place this summer. Wolf Trap sent a “Wolf Pack” of Wolf Trap Master Teaching Artists (Valerie Bayne Carroll, Christina Farrell, Roberta Lucas, Wincey Terry-Bryant, and Sue Trainor) to Indiana to work with FDS’ Head Start and Early Head Start teachers to reinvigorate them after the intervening and challenging years.

Twjonia Webb, manager for Family Development Services, acknowledges the after-effects of the pandemic on teacher morale: “Covid affected our staff a lot. Some teachers left, and some of our younger staff didn’t have the training or practical experience to understand how they could incorporate creative elements into their classroom.”

Terry-Bryant, Carroll, Trainor, Lucas, and Farrell worked together to provide the Head Start teachers instruction in arts integration strategies, demonstrating how they can incorporate music, dance, and storytelling into their classrooms. They wanted the teachers to learn, but more importantly, they wanted them to be creative and have fun exploring how they might use arts in their lessons and interactions with young children.

FDS staff noticed an immediate difference in the confidence and aptitude of the teachers who attended the sessions. “During our field observations before the training, we had noticed some of our teachers struggling with storytelling and with bringing math into their classroom work,” said Stephania Mozee, education manager of FDS. “The Wolf Trap Teaching Artists showed them techniques they could use to embed curriculum elements into their storytelling. Once they saw that, we saw lightbulbs go off for everyone.”

Arts for Learning Indiana was recently awarded a grant to implement Wolf Trap’s Baby ArtsPlay program in 15 Early Head Start classrooms. The grant will enable their organization to work with FDS to analyze early language development opportunities and work with FDS families to help support babies’ language development at home. Central Indiana Wolf Trap will hold professional development intensives for teachers beginning in Spring 2024 that will continue through Summer 2026, concluding with a family engagement workshop.

Reflecting on the success of their partnership, Pagdalian shared, “Listening is key in every partnership, finding out where the stress points are, and working together to learn how we can support our partners in those areas,” said Pagdalian.

Rice believes in the value of the arts for her community. “Bringing the arts into the classroom really helps to create that active learning space for the teacher and the child and supports the belief that children are creative and competent and can learn in different ways.”

To learn more about Central Indiana Wolf Trap and Family Development Services’ work in the community, visit Central Indiana Wolf Trap and FDS.