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School Residency Program

Local artists bring creativity to area special education classrooms

Teaching Artist Josh Dunigan and a student playing a tongue drum together in a special education classroom.

At the start of each year, the ACT team jumps right into one of our most exciting programs: In-School Residencies! Running January to April, ACT teaching artists collaborate with special education teachers throughout West Michigan to bring art directly to the classrooms. To share insights into the program, we connected with teaching artists about their experiences!


Anna Heinen, a ceramics and sculpture artist, led a classroom at Appleview Elementary in exploring clay. She is one of five former ACT interns who are teaching artists in the residency program this year. “I find it most exciting to be with the students because they are all very welcoming to me. It also excites me that the students get to visualize and create new projects using materials they may not have used before,” shared Anna. She hopes her students further their creative minds and gain fine motor skills through her classes to take back to their general curriculum.


On the other side of greater Grand Rapids, Josh Dunigan has been visiting Oriole Park Elementary. Josh has taught drumming for many ACT programs since 2006 and doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon. When talking about the Oriole Park residency, he shared,

“I love walking into a room full of people who are excited to make music. From the moment I present the instruments to when I leave, the students and teachers are smiling, playing, and really connecting with me and each other. Engaging in musical play always reveals a lot about someone. Students who are quiet and withdrawn can become expressive and joyful when they have a drum in front of them.”

One of Josh’s activities is a game called Throw & Catch, which involves singing, moving, and drumming with tennis balls, which always fills the room with smiling students and teachers.


Student focused on painting a hand-made ceramic bowl.

Just across the hall at Oriole Park Elementary, Mandy Cano Villalobos has been working with students on the art of puppetry! Mandy is a talented professional artist who works in many different art forms. When asked about the highlight of the sessions, Mandy shared, “A lot of times we make super simple puppets with socks or paper plates, but what they really seem to love is selecting the pre-made animal puppets that I bring to each class. It's like they have a bond to certain puppets, and even project themselves as certain animals…They are so imaginative.”


At Creative Technologies Academy in Cedar Springs, Spencer High has led students through the creation of folk tales. He shared that some students struggled with generating ideas for stories at first, so he involved the whole class to help inspire ideas for their classmates. Spencer emphasized this was “a great example of how the people you surround yourself with can help make you a more creative person!”


Follow us @ACTWM for more residency highlights!