Engaging Students in Social & Emotional Learning

through the Arts

The Program

This program is provided under a contract with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

This program is provided under a contract with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Arts to Smarts is VSA Vermont’s classroom-based arts integration program designed to support social and emotional development for reluctant and reactive learners. Highly trained teaching artists work collaboratively with classroom teachers to connect arts to the curriculum and celebrate each child’s authentic voice through creative expression.

“I think it allows them the deepest affirmations of who they are and the self expression that makes all of us feel whole and authentic.” – Janet St. Onge, Lead Teacher, LEARN Academy and Arts to Smarts Lead Classroom Teacher

Arts to Smarts works to increase opportunities for students with behavioral and emotional challenges to engage in learning and participate in positive social interactions through the arts. Skills like social awareness, collaboration, and self-management are developed through hands-on art making activities integrated in the classroom.

“Trauma and behavioral challenges are a growing problem in VT classrooms, and pose some of the most difficult challenges for teachers and students. Students with severe behavioral challenges too often lose confidence in their own abilities to succeed in academic and classroom settings. The arts can offer a route back into the curriculum and toward positive social interactions.” – Rebecca Holcombe,  Former Vermont Secretary of Education



Since 2014, VSA Vermont has been pioneering this practice with schools, teachers, and arts professionals throughout Vermont. Development of the program began in collaboration with Howard Center’s Baird School, an independent licensed alternative education environment for children ages 6-14.  Using the arts integration model, VSA Vermont teaching-artist Lisa Condino met with Baird School teachers and administrators to integrate visual arts and Universal Design for Learning concepts into their lessons. Art became part of the learning process across subjects like reading, writing, math, social studies, and science.

“It gives each of those kids something they can be successful at. And you can’t help but be impacted by them being successful, seeing what that success looks like, wanting to be part of that success moving forward. So that changed how I viewed some of the students.” – Baird School Educator

Training the Next Generation of Vermont Teaching Artists

To prepare teaching artists to work with classroom teachers and children, VSA Vermont offers a graduate level training course in partnership with St. Michael’s College and Howard Center’s Baird School. This 3-credit course introduces teaching artists to the pedagogy of arts integration, universal design for learning, and social/emotional learning systems. In addition to working in Arts to Smarts classrooms, program graduates have gone on to other arts education jobs in schools and nonprofits throughout Vermont.

“They’ve just become more patient with each other, we’ve become a stronger community. A lot of that is through art and sharing art with each other, and talking about their art, learning not to be judgmental or put each other down.” – Amanda Mormile, 4th Grade Teacher, JFK Elementary School and Arts to Smarts Lead Classroom Teacher


Bring the Arts to Your Classroom

Arts to Smarts teaching artists work closely with classroom teachers to craft a tailored experience that works best for schools and students. Explore a sample lesson plan template.

Is your classroom or school interested in being an Arts to Smarts program partner? For more information, contact program coordinator Heidi Swevens by email at heidi@vsavt.org or call 802.238.5170.


Further Resources

Coming Soon!


Arts to Smarts is made possible through support from:

  • The Bay & Paul Foundations
  • The Fountain Fund of the Vermont Community Foundation
  • Hilary Maslow
  • Jane’s Trust
  • Lisa Steele
  • Maslow Family Foundation
  • National Endowment for the Arts
  • Vermont Arts Council