Connecting arts and academics

New Camas High School program blends science, English and art classes

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Camas High School English teacher Ruhiyyih Wittwer shows ninth grade students in the Integrated Arts and Academics magnet program how to create a map using text evidence from a short story they had read earlier. The students incorporated art into the project by shading the map using only primary color pencils.

o To learn about the Integrated Arts and Academics program at CHS, visit

Lydia Ross-Macleod has always been passionate about art in all of its forms.

“I love expressing myself through the different mediums,” the Camas High School freshman said.

So, when she heard about a new program at CHS this year that combined the core subjects of science, English and art, Ross-Macleod jumped at the opportunity to participate.

“I was really excited about finding a program like this,” she said. “Our projects integrate all of those subjects into one thing. The students are in all of the classes together, so we really get to know people better. This makes it much easier in school.”

The Integrated Arts and Academics magnet program is the brainchild of art teacher Gina Mariotti Shapard, who taught at the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics for seven years before coming to Camas.

It began in September with 45 students.

“I thought it would be good to try that model on a smaller level here,” she said. “I really missed the collaboration and advocacy for students, knowing them well and looking out for them.”

o To learn about the Integrated Arts and Academics program at CHS, visit

The purpose is to meet the academic needs of students whose learning style is best served by an arts-integrated curriculum centered on standards and arts based projects, and to provide them with varied experiences. Students are in a scheduled “block” consisting of three class periods that fulfill their academic requirements for ninth grade in Pre-Advanced placement English, physical science and fine arts (visual and performing).

Class work emphasizes shared concepts and themes among these subjects, and addresses Common Core Standards. Students have plenty of opportunities to use their hands and be creative. They do not need to audition, present a portfolio or have highly-developed talent in order to enroll.

After extensive research, Mariotti Shapard discovered that only a few high schools in the country are integrating arts into their programs, so she was left without a model to follow. But ultimately, students inspired her to keep trying.

“I was talking to a student once who said she hated school,” Mariotti Shapard recalled. “I thought that was sad because she had good grades. She told me her education felt meaningless, but here (in art class) she felt like it actually meant something. I could see a difference in her, she was calm and happy.”

English teacher Ruhiyyih Wittwer was eager to participate in the new magnet program.

“Gina and I would talk about what we were doing in our classes, and I had this ‘ah-ha’ moment where I wished we had the same students and could help the same kids. When Gina talked to me about the magnet program, I was like, ‘sign me up.'”

Science teacher Jennifer Johnson joined the effort shortly after being hired at the high school this past summer. Previously, she was a substitute teacher for eight years and organized productions for the New Blue Parrot Theater.

She also teaches voice and piano lessons privately.

“We interviewed Jen and thought she was a perfect fit,” Mariotti Shapard said. “She has a passion for arts and science, and sees how they go together.”

It has been a learning process as the three educators develop curriculum which ties the three subjects together and also meets Common Core Standards.

Some of this has been made easier with a grant from the Camas Educational Foundation.

“Since I am a visual arts teacher, having professional artists work with our students is a necessary component of my class, and we can host performing artists as well in dance, theater, music and film,” Mariotti Shapard said.

Johnson noted that the individualized nature of the IAA program is one of its greatest strengths.

“It focuses on individual students,” Johnson said. “It is a challenge to combine art and science, but it helps to collaborate with fellow teachers. We spend our Tuesday and Thursday prep periods together and did a lot of research during the summer.”

Noted Wittwer, “We are always connecting and collaborating. On the social side, the kids have bonded really well and seem to be working well together.”

On a recent Thursday, students in Wittwer’s pre-AP English class created a map where they needed to find text evidence from a short story to support their conclusions, a Common Core Standard. Art was incorporated by shading the map with secondary colors using only primary color pencils.

Student Alex Neal’s parents are both artists and encouraged him to enroll in the IAA program. “I think this is definitely interesting,” he said. “It’s a new, more dynamic way of learning. It’s a lot different than my other classes in school.”