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By Jet Burnham |

Kelleen Leslie masterfully incorporates art experiences into her daily lessons, providing her students with a fourth-grade curriculum that is always exciting and new.

“Arts integration gives students a deeper understanding of the core and teaches my students how to be creative thinkers and problem solvers,” said Leslie. “It makes school fun again.”
Leslie, who teaches at Blackridge Elementary, was one of this year’s recipients of the Beverly Taylor Sorensen Legacy Award, presented to educators who “embrace the arts with excellence in their practice.”

The Beverly Taylor Sorensen Foundation believes:

“The study of drama, dance, music and the visual arts helps students explore realities, relationships and ideas that cannot be expressed simply in words or numbers.”

Leslie feels the arts are a vital part of a complete education.

“I am a firm believer that we need to educate the whole child,” she said.

Leslie uses a variety of methods to incorporate the arts in her lessons. She uses visual art to enrich learning. She said when students are challenged to study a painting, they start to notice things that they didn't even realize were there.

“The students' observation skills skyrocket,” said Leslie. “They become more observant in other areas, and they notice the details more thoroughly.”

The activity strengthens the observation skills needed for following the scientific method. “When they can learn to see the details in a painting, they can see the details in a science experiment,” she said.

By discussing what is happening in a painting, students practice inferring, which Leslie said is a reading strategy most fourth-graders struggle with.

Leslie assigns her students to visually explore their science units through mind-mapping. She also teaches basic drawing techniques that students use to draw realistic plants and animals when they study Utah ecosystems.

Each day, Leslie begins with a brain dance to prepare the students to learn. Dance and movement is often used to reinforce concepts.

“We dance rock cycle, weather, water cycle, geometry and multiplication,” said Leslie. “When they can stop being embarrassed and let themselves be engulfed in the movement and music, it is a beautiful thing to see. I see their confidence grow.”

Shauna Estes, whose son Matthew is in Leslie’s class, said the movement helps her son stay focused.

“It’s been really good for my son because he’s an active kid and just sitting still for long periods of time is hard for him,” she said.

Jen Pjeter said Leslie’s teaching methods have resonated with her daughter, Olivia.
“Mrs. Leslie has entirely changed Olivia's experience with math and restored her confidence,” said Pjeter.

Olivia enjoyed the rhythm and drumming they used to practice their times tables.
“It helped me memorize, and I had fun while we were doing it,” said Olivia. “I've never really liked math until this year.”

Leslie’s students use drama exercises to perform puppet shows, storytelling and readers’ theaters. They also pantomime their spelling and vocabulary words to aid with retention

Camee Montgomery is another parent whose child has thrived in the arts-focused class. Her son Ty said he’s had the best year ever.

“I know that is because of Mrs. Leslie,” said Montgomery. “She is so deserving of the award she won and deserves so many more in my book.”

The year full of fine arts experiences culminated with a class opera. With support from Opera By Children and the school’s music specialist, Josh Roberts, students wrote the libretto (words) and music for the Utah history- themed opera. Students designed, built and painted scenery. They also choreographed the dances and fashioned their own costumes.
“Mrs. Leslie incorporates her love of the arts into all aspects of her teaching and got even my soccer, football and basketball-loving son to be incredibly excited and proud of being in an opera,” said Montgomery. “She encourages and pushes them to do better and be the best they can be.”

Leslie strives to instill confidence in her students to prepare them to meet new challenges.
“My greatest joy comes from seeing my students experience new things and do hard things that they did not think they could do,” said Leslie.

With the award, Leslie received $2,500, with an additional $2,500 awarded to the school’s arts programs.

Michelle Lindsey

2016-2017 Blackridge Elementary Teacher of the Year!

Mrs. Lindsey is an innovative teacher that ensures that her curriculum has plenty of rigor and appeals to students because it is always relevant to their lives.  She engages students in very creative ways using role play, technology, dialogue, and hands on activities.  The learning outcomes in her classes are significant as demonstrated on benchmark tests, SAGE scores, student products, etc.

Mrs. Lindsey has provided our staff with professional development opportunities as she has shared some effective teaching strategies that others have been able to learn from and incorporate into their instructional practices.  Mrs. Lindsey is a teacher leader who motivates all around her to bring their best each day and to fully invest for the good of students.

We appreciate the many good things Mrs. Lindsey does for our school and we celebrate her for the contributions she makes to our community.

Kelleen Leslie

Beverly Taylor Sorensen Legacy Award Winner

In an effort to create a well-balanced educational experience that addresses the many and varied needs of each child, Kelleen Leslie intentionally creates consistent and frequent integrated arts experiences with her students.

Mrs. Leslie’s fourth grade students perform brain dances every morning to get their thinking started on the right foot. They also learn the elements of dance while learning important academic concepts in memorable ways. They create and perform dances for many concepts, including the rock and water cycles, clouds, weather, fossils, geometry, fractions, and multiplication. One of the students' favorite experiences is creating and performing Native American hoop dances during their study of Utah history.

One project in particular that showcases Mrs. Leslie's ability to integrate all four art forms into her instruction is her current opera production. The students have created the story, music, lyrics, scenery, and costumes. We've enjoyed watching the process take shape, and we can't wait to share the finished production with our community.