Arts Grow SC funded program uses drama techniques to motivate elementary students to read

Christina Vandiver

Young students celebrating reading
The award-winning Spark program, presented by SC Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, motivates students to read using engaging drama activities.

GREENVILLE, SC — Elementary school students struggling to meet reading benchmarks in will now have additional support thanks to a three-year, Arts Grow SC grant of 3.7 million dollars to expand an arts education program called Spark. Administered by the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, this regional outreach program uses drama strategies to improve reading engagement and motivation, as well as creative and divergent thinking among students.

Spark’s teaching artists will work with students in Calhoun, Florence, Richland, and Williamsburg counties throughout the school year. Additional schools will be added over the next two years as the program progresses. 

“Hundreds of third grade students are identified through Read to Succeed each year as being in need of additional support,” said Carol Baker, director of outreach and community engagement at the Governor’s School. “We know that meaningful connections are made for children when they learn through the arts, and the unique relationship between drama, storytelling and reading is showing promising trends in our research.”

In 2018, the school partnered with the SC Arts Commission (SCAC) and University of South Carolina Department of Theatre and Dance to examine the potential impact that the Spark drama curriculum had on reading motivation and success for young children. The program was piloted in Williamsburg County as a summer camp for at-risk readers through the state-mandated Read to Succeed Act. Based on encouraging early trends, within three years Spark had expanded into Jasper County and received national recognition with the Research Initiative-Institution Award from Arts Schools Network.

Through Spark, actor-teachers empower students to bring stories and characters to life using basic acting tools. “When students can use their imaginations to create movements, gestures, voices and settings, books become more than just words and images on a page. They become a lived experience that students can connect with on a personal and emotional level,” explained Baker. 

The Governor’s School hired multiple theatre teaching artists to coordinate curriculum and provide long term drama residencies in select schools throughout South Carolina. These actor-teachers will provide partnering schools with classroom and group drama services that include co-teaching and arts integration experiences. Spark will also provide guest artist visits, performances, and professional learning opportunities for teachers, along with continued support for summer Read to Succeed camps. There are no costs to partnering schools or school districts for participating in Spark.

With this recent grant, Spark is now supported by Arts Grow SC, which is funded by the SC Arts Commission and the South Carolina Department of Education through American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) funds.

“While I am not surprised by the positive impact Spark is having on students, I am overjoyed to see the support and acknowledgement that this program has received from participating school districts, the South Carolina Department of Education and the South Carolina Arts Commission, and we are very grateful for that,” said Cedric Adderley, Governor’s School president. “It is through these kinds of strategic funding partnerships that we have the best chance to reach students in a meaningful way.”

According to Baker, “With these funds Spark will evolve and grow exponentially— from serving only summer camp students to serving students year-round, expanding over three years to reach up to 30 schools. We will also have an opportunity to work with younger students to intervene at an earlier age, which is important for long term success. We are incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity through Arts Grow SC.”

Learn more about the Spark program and employment opportunities at