Arts Education and Early Childhood Programs

During the President’s annual State of the Union address, it is customary for the first lady to invite guests, usually normal Americans who are doing extraordinary work in their respective fields. At this year’s State of the Union, President Obama unveiled his universal pre-K initiative, a set of policies meant to increase access and improve the quality of early childhood programs. First Lady Michelle Obama’s guest was Susan Bumgarner, a teacher at Wilson Arts Integration Elementary School in Oklahoma City. Bumgarner’s and her colleagues have been part of the Kennedy Center’s Partners in Education program, which provides professional development opportunities for performing arts teachers, for nearly 20 years. In this Q&A, Bumgarner, joined by Kennedy Center’s director of teacher and school programs Amy Duma, talks about the vital role the arts played in reviving Wilson, a low performing school when she first arrived in the early 1990s.

In her assessment, Bumgarner notes the arts should play a pivotal role in the early years of schooling for students:

Preschoolers are really concrete in the way they learn. And they also learn best through play. Now if you look at any random preschool class anywhere, if it’s a good class at all, you’re going to see dancing; you’re going to see singing; you’re going to see pretending, which is a form of acting. You’re going to see painting and drawing. So that’s traditional in early education. But when you use arts integration, things go deeper; the connections really deepen the understanding in the arts and in the traditional content areas.

Watch the clip below on Bumgarner’s thoughts on her once in a lifetime experience.