These free programs are bringing art into Indiana classrooms to aid learning and support teachers

You might know Brian Kruschwitz as a member of the band, Yurtfolk, based in North Manchester. He and his partner LuAnne Harley, lead the group, which creates community through music, stories, and folk dance.
 
But throughout the year, you can also find Kruschwitz in Indiana classrooms, working with students to help them acquire the skills to make inferences about art or to get them excited about learning through artforms, like music and theatre.
 
"There are certain kids who have a tough time with ‘normal’ learning," Kruschwitz says. "The arts is where they really come alive in a way you don't see in an average classroom."

Brian Kruschwitz, Education Artistic Manager at Honeywell Foundation shows off some of the items he uses for storytelling. This includes an Australian lager phone and a hat that helps swat away flies at the Honeywell Center.
 
As grade schools across the U.S. experience shrinking budgets and growing responsibilities, arts programs are often the first to receive cuts, and a lack of arts education can limit the way students learn and process information in multiple subject areas.

As one of the state’s largest arts foundations based in Northeast Indiana, Honeywell Arts & Entertainment is working to bring art and creative thinking into classrooms across the state through its cost-free Arts in Education programs. Designed to improve arts integration and English literacy, these programs provided nearly 42,000 arts-infused learning opportunities last year for students at 88 Indiana schools in 15 counties.

Kruschwitz is a resident in Honeywell's Arts Integration program. He also leads its Visual Thinking Strategies program, aimed at improving students' visual learning, which in turn, improves their reading and writing comprehension.

Kristi Unger, Director of Education at Honeywell, explains that "Visual Thinking Strategies," or VTS, is an inquiry-based teaching method created by cognitive psychologist Abigail House and museum educator Philip Yenawine.

"Essentially, it uses student-centered conversation about art to deepen learning across school disciplines," she says.


Brian Kruschwitz, Education Artistic Manager at Honeywell Foundation shows off Kamishibai - Japanese Paper Theater, a storytelling technique, at the Honeywell Center.
 
Through Honeywell’s VTS program, which Kruschwitz facilitates, an instructor comes into schools once a month and shows art to students, who make inferences about the pictures and are required to use evidence to support their observations. This helps them move from simple and detailed observations to drawing deeper inferences.
 
"The only rule is you provide the 'because' and provide evidence," says Keri Mertz, a fourth-grade teacher at OJ Neighbours Elementary in Wabash. "It's an amazing way to really get the kids thinking critically."

Keri Mertz helps students with their books in her classroom at O J Neighbours Elementary School in Wabash.
Along with building students’ visual thinking and processing skills, Honeywell’s other Arts in Education offerings, like its Arts Integration Residency program, bring music and theater into classrooms, often tying it into English Language Arts curricula, which is something Kruschwitz does himself making multiple visits per year in each classroom.
 
"My students always look forward to any of the Honeywell lessons," says Mertz. "They were all so disappointed when they realized they were having their final one of the year."

Brian Kruschwitz, Education Artistic Manager at Honeywell Foundation shows off Kamishibai - Japanese Paper Theater, a storytelling technique, at the Honeywell Center.
 
The newest program Honeywell is piloting as part of its Arts in Education offerings is its Social-Emotional Learning through the Arts and Drama (SEAD) program, designed to teach students more general skills, like how to focus and work with a team.
 
"The SEAD program came to a rambunctious group and taught them how to be quiet, how to pay attention and how to behave," says Mertz. "These are skills that will prove to be beneficial for the rest of their lives."

Students participate in Honeywell's Social-Emotional Learning through the Arts and Drama (SEAD) program, designed to teach them general skills, like how to focus and work with a team.
 
While some educators may be hesitant to integrate nontraditional programs into an already packed schedule, OJ Neighbours third-grade teacher Stacey Fry says the program is going well so far in her classroom, and she’s felt supported by Unger and Honeywell's team, as a whole.
 
"Kristi and her team go above and beyond to make sure that all questions are answered and as the classroom teacher I feel prepared to experience the program with my class," says Fry. "From start to finish, I feel completely supported."

Teacher Stacey Fry helps students Logan Minard, left, Hunter Lutz during reading time in her class at O J Neighbours Elementary School in Wabash.
 
Along with adding often-overlooked elements into the classroom and changing how students learn, Kruschwitz says Honeywell’s programs are designed to fit and alleviate teachers’ busy schedules, integrating into their existing curricula rather than giving educators more to do.
 
"The program allows us to do some of the prep work for the teachers, taking it off their shoulders," Kruschwitz says. "This allows them to focus on enjoying the lessons themselves."

Students at OJ Neighbours Elementary School in Wabash participate in Honeywell's Arts in Education programs.
 
Overall, Honeywell's lessons are also designed to help teachers move their lessons forward, rather than putting traditional learning on hold. In Fry’s mind, this is what makes the programs unique—and perhaps misunderstood at first glance.
 
"I think teachers feel so pressed for time that the programs feel like just another thing," Fry says. "I have found that instead of fitting the lesson in somewhere, it's much easier to replace a lesson with the same standards rather than just shoving it in."

Keri Mertz works in her class at O J Neighbours Elementary School in Wabash.
 
Mertz even argues that Honeywell’s focus on "skills and strategies far outweigh the curricular time," creating greater value for students and teachers alike.
 
Honeywell’s staff also strives to take an active role in supporting educators and having open communication to fully prepare a teacher.
 
"As soon as my classroom was committed to a program, the staff at the Honeywell Center were ready to help facilitate and make the program successful,” says Fry.

Honeywell’s Arts in Education offerings, like its Arts Integration Residency program, bring music and theater into classrooms.
 
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, additional, virtual lessons have been added to Honeywell’s Arts in Education programs, which have allowed teachers to keep utilizing them.
 
"I love using the extra slides with the class on my own," says Mertz. "It keeps the students excited about learning and focused on the storytelling process."
 
Fry says trust plays another important element in the programs’ success. She feels she can lean on the staff at the Honeywell Center to help her not only execute programs, but also deliver quality content to students and teach successfully in various learning environments.

Students at OJ Neighbours Elementary School in Wabash participate in Honeywell's Arts in Education programs.
 
If teachers are interested, Unger encourages them to inquire about Honeywell’s free Arts in Education programs so they can receive more information about applying.
 
"I would highly encourage teachers to use Honeywell," says Mertz. "It will change your teaching, and it will change your classroom forever."

Wabash is the focus of a new Partner City series in Input Fort Wayne underwritten by Visit Wabash County and Honeywell Arts & Entertainment. This series will capture the story of talent, creativity, investment, innovation, and emerging assets shaping the future of Wabash County, about an hour Southwest of Fort Wayne.