Texas A&M-San Antonio, in partnership with The Tobin Center, receives $3.35 million US Department of Education grant

By University Communications

Five-year award will provide arts-based education to K-5 students and teachers in San Antonio

 San Antonio A new collaboration between Texas A&M University-San Antonio and the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts is set to transform arts education and experiences for thousands of South Bexar County elementary students and teachers, boosted by a $3.35 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The five-year grant award—the largest federal competitive grant received at Texas A&M University-San Antonio—will support CULTIVAR (Communities Uplifting Learners Through Imagination and Vibrant Artistic Reflections), an arts-based education program for K-5 students and teachers throughout San Antonio.

Initially, the program will launch at Armstrong Elementary in the South San Antonio Independent School District (SSAISD)—one of seven school districts within A&M-San Antonio’s ASPIRE network—to create a fully immersive arts education program for all students in grades K-5. CULTIVAR will focus on three distinct areas—teachers, students, and community—that will enhance arts education in San Antonio schools and expand community and regional awareness of opportunities for Latinx cultural arts.

“CULTIVAR emphasizes the importance of students expressing their personal identity through the arts,” said Dr. Karen Burgard, associate professor of Curriculum and Instruction at A&M-San Antonio and principal investigator. “The program will create a space in every classroom for student voices, and provides a vehicle for self-expression that has the potential to profoundly enhance their educational experiences.”

An arts-based education program impacts students’ educational experiences, providing opportunities to express their personal, cultural, and linguistic identity, according to Dr. Carl Sheperis, dean of the College of Education and Human Development at A&M-San Antonio.

“For students and communities with high levels of poverty and marginalization, a program such as CULTIVAR is rarely accessible and addresses an issue of educational equity,” said Sheperis. “The CULTIVAR project is an example of A&M-San Antonio’s commitment to educational equity in San Antonio and will give historically underserved communities access to meaningful arts education opportunities and resources that often are lacking.”

The DOE grant will support the design and build of an artist’s maker’s studio and an arts garden at Armstrong Elementary and provide art experiences for students, families, and community members in those spaces. The grant also will provide opportunities for all teachers in the seven ASPIRE districts to participate in arts education professional development to increase cross-cultural and community awareness, potentially impacting thousands of students in the San Antonio area.

“We are excited to partner with Texas A&M University-San Antonio to add yet another instructional tool to our ever-expanding educational tool belt,” said South San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent Marc Puig. “Our children will be exposed to a world where artistic expression goes above and beyond any restrictive lines.” 

A&M-San Antonio’s partnership with the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts—a renowned arts organization in the center of San Antonio with a mission to promote a diverse range of cultural, educational, and artistic experiences that improve the quality of life in San Antonio—adds a unique element to this project through its Generation NEXT initiative which connects education and the arts and promotes creative classrooms and culturally relevant learning throughout the city. The Tobin Center will be responsible for supporting teachers throughout the ASPIRE network with training on effective ways to integrate the arts in their classrooms.  

“Arts integration is more than motivation, diversity, and creativity,” said Dr. Kimberly Stephenson, Director of Education at The Tobin Center. “This grant will contribute to integration of the arts as an act of collaboration, a recognition of strengths from teacher to students, students to teachers, and classmate to classmate that contributes to an increase in confidence. To practice arts integration is to make an investment in a depth of meaning making and retention through individual, lived experiences.”

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About the U.S. DOE Arts Education Grant

The CULTIVAR project is being led by Dr. Karen Burgard, associate professor in the department of curriculum and instruction at Texas A&M University-San Antonio; assistant professors Dr. Elisabeth Krimbill and Dr. Katherine Espinoza and Associate Professor Dr. Melissa Jozwiak—all in the department of educator and leadership preparation; Dr. Kimberly Stephenson of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts; and Dr. Michelle Janysek, Dr. Gus Weltsek, and Mr. Justin Korver of A&M-San Antonio.

About the ASPIRE Partnership

Launched in 2019, ASPIRE (A&M-San Antonio and South Bexar County ISDs Partnership to Impact Regional Equity and Excellence) is the collaborative effort between A&M-San Antonio and seven South Bexar County ISDs (East Central, Edgewood, Harlandale, Somerset, South San Antonio, Southside, and Southwest) that is helping create equitable opportunities across districts and enhance social mobility, income growth, and career readiness for South Bexar County and the greater San Antonio area.

About the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts

The mission of The Tobin Center, a local non-profit arts organization, is to provide a world-class venue that promotes a diverse range of cultural, educational, and artistic experiences that improve the quality of life in San Antonio. A center where school children receive specialized education opportunities and exposure to extraordinary performances, The Tobin Center is a magnet for downtown revitalization. Situated along the banks of the River in the city’s heart, this theatrical icon is a shining beacon of creativity, fine art, and downtown development for the nation’s seventh-largest city, providing a home where resident performing arts groups can grow and thrive.

About Texas A&M University-San Antonio

Established as a stand-alone university in 2009, Texas A&M University-San Antonio is a comprehensive four-year public university that reflects the culturally diverse, heritage-rich community it serves. Situated on nearly 700 acres in south San Antonio, A&M-San Antonio is a military-embracing institution offering 33 undergraduate degrees and 16 graduate degrees to nearly 7,000 students. The University is home to the Henry G. Cisneros Institute for Emerging Leaders and the Cyber Engineering Technology/Cyber Security Research Center. A&M-San Antonio holds the Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) designation, with more than 75 percent of students who identify as Hispanic. Military Times ranks the University No. 35 in the nation for Best for Vets: Colleges.” Visit tamusa.edu for more information. #onamission