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Combining Arts and Science to Solve Problems, and Inspire

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life, Education, Feature, Local News.
January 31, 2012

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To hear about ArtsScience Prize in student’s own words, click here.

Arts and science. At first glance, they go together as much as crimson and orange, or a tuxedo and sneakers. There’s a program, called ArtsScience Prize, getting started in Oklahoma City combining the two for high schoolers, with a trip to Paris for the winners. It’s getting a hold with students, even as some principals and teachers aren’t really sure what it’s about…

Drawing might not seem to mix with biology, until you go to the home of the ArtsScience Prize in Oklahoma City on a Wednesday or Thursday afternoon.

Conversations get so enthusiastic in the cramped rooms, they have to put up dividers to keep shouting from leaking to another group. These high school students aren’t doing high school things.

“Every time I go in to listen to the group’s my jaw kinda drops and I’ll go, ‘Oh that’s a great thought, I read that same seed idea but it didn’t take me there so where did that thought come from?’”, says Nancy Nortz, Executive Director of Oklahoma’s ArtScience Lab.

Oklahoma was the second location to get it in 2010, and now it’s spread around the world.  She says the program isn’t about telling kids what to think, like school, but rather guiding them through the thought process.

Students work in groups of 6 for the year, coming up with a solution tied to the theme. For this year, virtual worlds, one group is developing a practically invisible screen that fits over a window, and could display whatever you want.

“Every team needs some rules and they were waiting for us to give them, ‘Ok what rules do we have to follow?’ And we said, ‘You absolutely need to have some team rules, what do you think they should be?’ And they said, ‘What do we think they should be?’”

ArtsScience students come from all over Oklahoma City. I met students from Pathways Middle College High School, near the airport, Harding Charter Prep School in the tony neighborhoods of North OKC, and Douglass Mid-High School, just east of Downtown.

“It actually makes me my happy place,” says Samantha Garcia, a junior at Douglass.

“I feel like I could bounce off every wall and just talk whenever and never stop talking. Compared to being somewhere else I have to stay restrained, here you can just be free like me cause I feel like I have ADHD every time I sit in a chair. And they allow you to get up, so I’m like ‘Yes!’”

Another student, Clayton Mitchell, is already bragging to his friends back at Harding Charter Prep High School about ArtsScience Prize. Forget that it isn’t a requirement. Clayton’s overjoyed it’s different than what high school is like.

“There’s one specific thing that we’re trying to learn. It doesn’t always make me feel like I’m expanding my mind as far as I could. Whereas when I’m at ArtsScience there’s so many different things that I’m thinking about at once that I really feel like I’m expanding my mind.”

It’s required some teachers and principals to expand their minds too. There’s no check mark on the state graduation requirements for the ArtsScience Prize. Why should a principal take time out of their student’s day to allow this new group on the block to make its pitch?

“There are some schools that it’s really hard for them to understand who we are, what we do, and how we help.”

Executive Director Nancy Nortz says the Oklahoma City Public Schools administration has helped win over skeptical principals, and says they presented to every high school this year. 36 students are in the  program in its second year. So when they return to schools next year:

“We can pull that student up and they can tell from their standpoint, what they gained from the program, what it meant to them, what they learned. And I think when students from their own school see, ‘Wow, they did that?’”.

No one really graduates from the program. They want students to find their passion and pursue it, going to places they never dreamed. One of last year’s two groups is actually still at work. They’ve developed a biodegradable plastic bottle, and as ArtsScience International Director Carrie Fitzsimmons puts it, the program can help break through…

“Where in the world have you heard of young, 15, 16, 17 year olds filing a patent and developing something that might change the world? I think it’s pretty amazing.”

These kids just want a chance to get their ideas out there without getting immediately shot down. The trip to Paris might draw them in, but Samantha Garcia isn’t focused on that anymore.

“As I got into it, I felt like ‘If I don’t go, Oh well I still had a happy experience coming here and working with people just like me.’”

For her, arts and science go together better than she ever thought. And ArtsScience hopes more kids agree..they want to double this year’s class size by the fall.

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