A post by our wonderful outreach director, Vanessa Strahan!

EASE: Everyday Arts for Special Education. And that’s what it does – it’s a program designed to make it easier for students with ASC and other developmental disabilities to communicate, socialize, and achieve academically and artistically by integrating arts education into everyday schooling. Teachers whose classrooms are participating in the program receive a series of training workshops, as well as getting a lot of in school co-teaching support to strengthen their base of knowledge and skills on fostering social-emotional learning skills, developing game-based and engaging curriculum, differentiation, and culturally responsive and inclusive practices.

The Numbers:

The Inception of the Program – 2010

Number of students served – over 50,000

Number of educators and partners participating – 1,700

Number of cities EASE operates in – 2

That’s right – only two cities. New York City and Los Angeles. The EASE methodology was first made possible in partnership with District 75 – the largest special education district in the US, housed in NYC – and a Professional Development for Arts Educators grant from the US Department of Education, which lasted from 2008-2011. EASE’s pilot program was incarnated specifically for students with ASC and was called Communication and Socialization Through the Arts, or CASTA. After the success of this program, the curriculum was expanded to include students with a broader range of disabilities and was renames EASE.

The US Department of Education recognized the success and impact of the program in the District 75 schools and awarded EASE a $4.6 million dollar Investing in Innovation Award, which was matched with a $500,000 contribution from the National Philanthropic Trust from 2010-2015. In these years, EASE drew the attention of the John F. Kennedy Center’s Very Special Arts division, which provided professional development and school-based coaching sessions throughout the LA Unified School District from 2012-2015.

EASE is now in the middle of another PDAE grant, which lasts until 2019, working in NYC’s District 75 and the LAUSD, focusing on incorporating technology for both student and teacher learning.

I know this was a lot of information, and really it’s just a long winded and detailed way of saying what in incredibly impactful program EASE has been in District 75 and the LAUSD. And think of what an impact the program could have if it was in every school with a special education program in the US. The integration of arts education into general education classrooms has been successful across the country, why should special education classrooms not receive the same opportunities? Especially when the hands on, game and communication based curriculums seen so often in arts education programs can be so particularly beneficial to cultivating the skills students with developmental differences can find more difficult than neuro-typical students.

Final evaluation results are expected this summer, but the initial numbers look fantastic. The program has yielded statistically significant improvements on students’ communication and socialization skills, has increased student motivation, attention span, self-confidence, positive risk-taking, and general interest in their school programs, as well as improving general arts and academic proficiency. I personally can’t wait to see the official numbers, which I hope are an indicator to the U.S. Department of Education and to all educational institutions across the U.S. and the world that programs like EASE should be a standard part of special education programs.

If you want to read more about EASE, please visit their website at: http://www.urbanarts.org/program/ease/

And if you want to get in contact with your state or federal congressional representatives, school board representatives, or other Department of Education officials, please use this resource to do so and to show them how much we care about getting programs like EASE into classrooms: https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials