Academic Approach

Creative Arts bases its teaching methods on constructivist learning theory developed on the premise that students construct their own understanding of the world by generating rules and mental models that help them make sense of experiences. Learning occurs when these mental models are adjusted to accommodate new experiences. Students explore and learn the core subjects of language arts, math, science, and social studies through direct experience and a hands-on curriculum with an arts-integrated focus.

  • All of the nine grade levels employ project-based learning whenever possible to help students understand the multifaceted relationships among academic subjects, technical and life skills, and the greater world.
  • Students also study the arts as distinct disciplines that become more formalized as students progress through the middle school years.
  • Our teachers practice innovative and diverse teaching models that value students as unique individuals with varied learning styles.
  • This approach is supported by small classes housed in a small school environment.
  • Families are encouraged to participate actively in the learning experience.

Creative Arts Charter School was founded on the belief that the education of the whole child includes ongoing exploration in dance, drama, music, and visual arts.

To that end, every school day for every student at CACS involves opportunities to play, invent, and discover. As part of a universal, cross-cultural language, the arts represent innate aspects of our common humanity, providing an inherent foundation for communication and a bridge for understanding across differences of age, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomics, and culture. The arts program lies at the heart and soul of the overall educational experience of every student at Creative Arts Charter School.

CACS uses art integration as a key strategy for learning in the classroom. We use the Kennedy Center’s definition of arts integration to drive our teaching:

Arts Integration is an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process which connects an art form and another subject area and meets evolving objectives in both.

The arts staff work closely with all classroom teachers to integrate the arts into their curriculum from grades K-8. This dynamic exchange allows students to become well-versed in a wide range of art media and techniques as they enhance their core competency skills. They also learn the social, historical, and multicultural relevancy and impact of the arts.

Kindergarten-5th Grade

From Kindergarten through 5th grade, students also participate in art classes four times each week, one each in visual arts, music, dance, and theater.

  • The visual arts program focuses on the creation of individual fine-arts projects in a variety of media, introducing students to a rich array of materials, techniques, contemporary artists, and art history. These projects also maintain a focus on connecting to themes in the core curriculum.
  • Based on the Orff Schulwerk approach, the music program weaves together strands of speech and poetry, movement and dance, drama and song, improvisation and set pieces, as well as use of the body and voice. Students sing folk songs from around the world, rock, jazz, and rap. They move in creative ways, play instruments, learn folk dances, tell stories and play games that teach them beat, rhythm, and pitch. These elements evolve as the students grow from Kindergarten to 3rd grade, but the essential aspects of creativity, play, and the love of music remain constant throughout all grade levels.
  • The dance program nurtures all students’ unique way of expressing who they are through movement. In an environment of encouragement, consistency and mutual respect, student dancers are challenged both physically and creatively. Workshops are lively, exposing the children to a rich blend of jazz, hip-hop, ballet and creative movement to engage everyone and inspire imagination. Weekly workshops build toward a culmination performance in the Spring

Grades 6-8

From grades 6-8, students focus on a particular discipline of the arts each semester, selecting an elective that they take three times a week. These classes focus on the arts as rigorous disciplines essential to the human experience. Teachers help students to find joy in self-expression and use creativity as a tool for enriching their academic learning and deepening their cultural awareness. Elective offerings vary based on student interest. This year, electives have included:

  • Music
  • Dance
  • Photography and graphic arts
  • Visual arts, including electives in painting, drawing, ceramics, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and graphic arts
  • Theater, in partnership with the New Conservatory Theatre Center

Guest Artists

The arts staff at CACS regularly invite guest artists from the wider San Francisco art community to join us in hosting short-term workshops that expand the exposure of our K-8 student artists to different styles of art-making. We also arrange field trips to museums, galleries, and artist studios. In addition, students attend concerts, dance performances, film festivals, and theater throughout the city, connecting classroom learning with art in the community.

Through thematic curricular units integrating different content areas, students learn critical problem solving skills.

For example, as part of an extended study of the world’s rain forests in the 1st grade:

  • Students participate in activities supported by Creative Arts’ partnership with UCSF’s science and health education program. They examine animal skulls to determine the animals’ diets; create terrariums; and handle rain forest insects such as Madagascar roaches, millipedes, and beetles.
  • This unit also covers rain forest conservation and a comparison with local recycling by an expert from Sunset Scavenger, the city’s recycling and composting service.
  • Language arts activities integrated into this project include reading fiction and non-fiction rain forest books and learning preliminary research skills by selecting individual rain forest animals to write about in a year-end report.
  • The unit culminates with a celebration and oral presentations.

Similarly, the 3rd grade undertakes a year-long study of the Bay Area’s indigenous people, the Ohlone tribe. At the outset, the teacher leads students through an exercise assessing their current knowledge and documenting what they are interested in learning. After setting goals, the students make academic choices about how they will acquire the knowledge and evaluate achievement through teacher- and student-created rubrics.

Across all grades, our art and classroom teachers collaborate to incorporate the arts into the general curriculum. During the first grade unit, the two teachers collaborate to transform the classroom into a rain forest with finger knit vines, cardboard trees, and paper-mâché animals. Students research and make traditional instruments of the region with our music teacher. During the Ohlone unit, the students create a life-size wikiup and decorate its walls with traditional tribal art and stories.

Through collective interdisciplinary projects, Creative Arts’ educational model also aims to build a sense of community. Our small class sizes and the practice of placing the same group of students with the same teacher for two years also ensure sustained relationships between teachers and students. We believe that building positive relationships over time increases students’ achievement level.

Creative Arts Middle School is at its heart a highly collaborative, joyful community that shares an enthusiasm for lifelong learning and an appreciation for intelligence in its multiple forms.

The program, which encompasses a rigorous academic program, the arts, community service, experiential education, and social-emotional development, is based on the recognition that middle school students are at a most complicated developmental stage. In addition, a strong sense of community based on respect, tolerance, and moral courage is one of the school’s defining attributes.

The philosophical underpinning of the school is three-fold: an instructional focus which emphasizes a student-centered classroom, a programmatic focus which drives the integration of the curriculum, and a cultural focus based on the collaborative, cooperative nature of teaching and learning. The cornerstone of the educational experience is an individualized process of learning which cultivates in each student a sense of self-awareness and self-esteem, which empowers students to become proactive self-advocates able to define their potential in their own terms.

What Makes Our Middle School So Special?

  • A rigorous, project-based, interdisciplinary academic program in language arts, social studies, and science, emphasizing reading comprehension and writing in all content areas. Students actively engage in projects that use creativity as a tool for learning and promote critical thinking.

What does this kind of curriculum look like?

Consider the following examples:

  • Our 6th-grade humanities class takes an interdisciplinary approach to the study of ancient civilizations beginning with early humans. Students research relevant anthropology and archaeology before creating replica artifacts of early humans and transforming their classroom into a cave dwelling. The project culminates with the students writing and hosting an exhibition of human development for lower grade classrooms.
  • Our 7th grade Life Sciences class teaches students to think and act like scientists. Through a series of real world challenges, such as building an artificial hand, students do research, participate in discussions, learn the content in the state standards, observe how human hands work,design and build a prototype, solve problems in their designs, and build, write about, and present a revised solution.
  • A differentiated math program that offers three distinct pathways to address varying degrees of math skill development and ensure each student’s needs are met. All students will be prepared for either high school algebra or high school geometry upon graduation, depending on their individualized growth.
  • An advisory program that personalizes the educational experience, builds strong relationships amongst school constituents, and promotes positive school culture. The sense of belonging and inclusion it creates ensures both that the school is a safe place to be “yourself” and that the unique developmental needs of Middle School students are met.
  • Small classes in a small community. Class size is capped at 28 students, with a total of 56 students in 6th grade in 2012-13. Students are known well by other students and by all staff members, creating a tight-knit, safe community. Community building occurs through community meetings, bi-annual camping trips, Advisory Olympics, field trips, and advisory projects that celebrate the school’s core values of multiculturalism and diversity.
  • Caring, dedicated faculty, committed to guiding students to reach their full potential. Our teachers have dedicated time to collaborate and plan interdisciplinary units and project based assessments to promote connection, relevance, and depth of thought across the curriculum.
  • Ample opportunities for choice, exploration, and leadership:
    • An arts and elective program builds students’ confidence in their creativity while facilitating interdisciplinary coursework and artistic collaboration. Our elective program offers classes in guitar, spoken word, drama, dance, music ensemble, visual art, and digital arts.
    • Our athletic program includes track, volleyball, basketball, and futsol, and is open to all who are interested.
    • Eighth graders serve as natural mentors to sixth and seventh graders. All Middle School students have book buddies in the younger grades.
    • A service learning program facilitates student volunteerism at food banks, nature preserves, and other non-profit organizations in San Francisco, bringing the school’s emphasis on community awareness and social justice to life.

Our graduates attend public and independent schools across the Bay Area including  Balboa, City Arts and Technology, Drew, Gateway, June Jordan, Leadership, Lincoln, Lowell, and School of the Arts.

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