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DREAM Project - California State University
Several years ago I became involved with the DREAM Program of California State University - San Marcos. DREAM stands for Developing Reading Education through Arts Methods, and I loved the goal behind the project immediately: to help teachers integrate the arts into childhood literacy education.

Elementary school teachers from the San Diego area come to the Cal. State campus for intensive workshops with musicians, artists, theater professionals, dancers, and visual artists. The teachers learn how the how the artists express and interpret stories, and get comfortable experimenting with many art forms themselves. The Cal. State educators use my Clementine books in these workshops, and the teachers brainstorm with the artists to come up with fun ways to integrate their arts to the story.

The Clementine books seem to be well suited to this method because they deal with common elementary-age themes - issues of families, friends and school environment - that a wide range of elementary school kids can relate to, and then expand as suits them. I’ve seen a play, for example, where Clementine’s cousin moves to her school from Mexico, and Clementine has a hilarious time showing him the ropes. Clementine herself is such an artistic, free-thinking character that she’s a natural role model to encourage readers to take chances with, and enjoy, the arts.

After the workshops, the teachers bring their new-found comfort and skills with arts integration back to their classrooms and apply them. The results have been impressive – dramatic rises in the California literacy test scores of all the schools that have participated.

I think higher literacy scores are wonderful, of course, but to me, an even greater benefit is that more kids are able to participate in some kind of Clementine activity. I think of my books not as monologues, but as conversations which, I hope, generate other conversations - between readers and characters, and between readers and their parents, teachers and other readers. We authors are rarely privy to these conversations, but we uniformly hope that they are wide and varied and include as many voices as possible. Using the arts to enhance the reading experience is an ideal way to do this: kids who might not be the most verbally gifted but who might be good artists, say, or musicians, or performers, can become valued participants in the Clementine conversations.

The best part of the whole DREAM project connection has been that I get to visit some of these schools, meet the kids involved, and get to enjoy their artwork and performances. My times with them are among the highlights of my writing life.

Visit the DREAM PROJECT for research publications and for lots of resource and support materials.

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