Brouillette, L., & Jennings, L. (2010). Helping children cross cultural boundaries in the borderlands: Arts program at Freese Elementary in San Diego creates cultural bridge. Journal for Learning Through the Arts, 6(1).


In 2001-2002, Freese Elementary, an inner-city elementary program in the U.S.-Mexico Borderland comprised primarily of English Language Learners (ELL), began an arts magnet program in which students receive art instruction from local teaching artists in the areas of dance, music, theater/puppetry, and visual art, on a rotating basis. Researchers collected data from in-depth interviews with teachers, teaching artists and administrators, and through classroom observations of teaching artist lessons to assess the ways in which and the degree to which the puppetry curriculum delivered to kindergarten through second-grade students impacted student language development and social-emotional development. Findings suggest that students benefited academically and developmentally through participation in the puppetry workshop and that overall school culture improved as a result of the arts magnet program.

Key Findings:

Teachers reported noticing improvements in students’ reading and expression following their participation in the puppetry program. Specifically, students exhibited confidence in speaking and increasingly complex language use over time as a result of their engagement in language-infused interactions with their peers in the risk-supportive arts environment.

Students identified as needing behavioral and/or academic support were able to take pride in performing successfully as part of the puppet troupe. Teachers reported noticing fewer behavioral problems when students were participating in the arts program.

Students were able to experience and develop multiple perspectives through the puppetry program by putting themselves in dramatic roles. Additionally, students were able to express their own hopes, fears, and abilities through imaginative engagement developed in the puppet lessons.

Significance of the Findings:

The findings suggest that long-term sustained involvement with the arts and arts-integration can provide academic and social-emotional benefits, particularly for ELL kindergarten through second-grade students and students identified as needing support in academic or behavior areas. The findings point to arts integration and drama learning experiences as a pathway for developing language skills and confidence in ELL students. Additionally, an arts-infused school culture is shown to positively affect students, providing them with a risk-free environment in neighborhoods overrun with strife.


The researchers employed a descriptive analysis to understand the impact of arts learning, on students in an arts magnet school in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. Researchers collected data on the impact of the kindergarten through second grade puppetry program on student language and socio-emotional development. Data included teacher, teaching artist, and administrator interviews and classroom observations. The researchers combined and culled the qualitative data for salient themes and patterns to understand the impact of the puppetry program on student achievement.

Limitations of the Research:

The study is a single case study and therefore its findings may not be applicable to other classrooms with different students and contexts.

Questions to Guide New Research:

What do additional data sources (e.g., academic assessments, number of disciplinary actions taken) suggest about such programs? How does the achievement and development exhibited by students in the arts magnet school compare to students in other school environments, particularly those without arts experiences? What is the long-term positive impact of an arts integrated school curriculum for students? How does the degree of impact experienced by ELL and/or at-risk students compare to the degree of impact experienced by other students?