Stafford Elementary School

​​​​​Using art to cement concepts and create confident, successful students
Third grade and fifth grade Stafford students perch on their seats on the school playground. Necks strain to see Museum of Glass staff twirling, molding and blowing glass in a portable hot shop. 

“Have you been studying lava? What is lava?” a Museum of Glass educator asks. After receiving a few replies, the staff member explains that glass essentially is lava, but with impurities such as dirt and ash removed.
​Stafford students learn from Museum of Glass instructors.
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“That’s really cool!” a student exclaims. 

​​At Stafford Elementary, such art-inspired lessons occur frequently. Teachers infuse art into all subjects to help students better understand concepts and reinforce lessons. 

The approach pays off. More than 70 percent of Stafford’s students qualify for free and reduced lunch, statistics often associated with lower test scores. However, the majority of Stafford students meet or exceed state standards in math, science, reading and writing.  And the school earned recognition as a statewide School of Distinction in 2010, 2013 and 2014 for its exceptional improvement in student achievement. 

“The mentality that art is important reaches all corners of our culture here,” teacher Tracy Gray said. “We’ve proved how successful this model is.”

Learning through creativity ​

On any one day, Stafford students may arrive early for ballet lessons, complete an art project with shapes while learning geometry, or illustrate a book they wrote.

Stafford staff view art as an essential learning vehicle, rather than an isolated subject. Every student learns the K-5 curriculum with core subjects in math, reading, writing and science. Art complements those subjects and supports student learning. 

“We integrate art into all our lessons,” Gray said. “The artistic connection reinforces academics.” 
​Student artwork hangs prominently in Stafford's halls.
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Stafford hallways shine with class projects. Illustrated poster boards display recent science experiments, including a test on the elasticity of slime. (Borax slime stretches further than corn starch slime.) To enter music class, students transform into pirates passing through a hallway decorated like a raging sea, with shark teeth around the door. 
​​​​​​​After school clubs include guitar, ukulele, drum, dance, ballet and hip hop. At an end-of-year celebration barbeque with parents, students serenaded guests with rousing drum beats and serene ukulele tunes. 

Parents cheered as students showed off their music skills. 

Even when students don’t come to school with art skills, using art frequently taps into innate creativity among all students, third-grade teacher Vicky Kinsey said. 

​“Everyone shines in art,” Kinsey said. “There are no mistakes.” ​​

Get to know Stafford

​Innovation Model: Stafford provides students with an arts-infused education. The teachers use art in all subjects to help students better understand concepts.

Students best served: The students who thrive here are the students who are here. Students don’t need to have a special talent for art. The art projects are more about learning the concepts.

Grades: Kindergarten through fifth

Students: 488

Teacher training: Teachers attend Arts Impact training, and many have special skills in the arts from teaching dance to making pottery.

School report card

School Web site

Special clubs and after-school programs: Homework Club • ELL Program • Ukulele Band • Drum Corp • Keyboard Lab​ • Theater and Plays

Related links:

School of Distinction 2010​​​

Designated Innovative School - Washington State