A ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Monarch Academy in Annapolis was held Tuesday morning to celebrate the school's opening.

Andrew Ross showed blank coloring book pages to students at Monarch Academy Annapolis on Tuesday morning.

He flipped through more pages in the book, showing students the illustrations.

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The blank pages were what school officials had about a year ago — the illustrated pages are what they have now at their new school.

"What seemed to be impossible, about oh maybe around last Halloween, was that we could have all of you sitting in this room rather than in an overcrowded school," said Ross, president and CEO of The Children's Guild and the TranZed Alliance, the parent company to Monarch Academy Public Charter Schools.

Monarch Academy Annapolis is a public contract school that opened this fall, drawing 583 students from the Annapolis area.

Arts integration is one of the major focuses of the school — a part of Anne Arundel County Public Schools but run by The Children's Guild. That integration begins with enriching the physical environment, guild Executive Vice President Frank Kros said.

Like other Monarch schools, the walls will be filled with murals centered on theme — for Annapolis, the theme is "journey of learning." The first mural is in the school's lobby and features a woman and children on a sailboat, but the sails are butterfly wings. The dome of the State House is in the background.

At other schools, the guild has faced the challenge of getting teachers to embrace arts integration, Kros said. There was a perception that art takes instructional time away from subjects such as math. At Monarch in Annapolis, teachers were hired for their experience with "arts integration," Kros said.

Tuesday's event featured scores of pretend monarch butterflies dropped on students from the ceiling of the gymnasium. One fourth-grader brought a bag of the faux insects back to her media class.

The day's lesson was sand mandalas and was led by Karin Abbott, the school's arts integration specialist. Sand mandalas are an intricate form of art created by Buddhist monks using grains of colored sand. Monks created one at the Loews Annapolis Hotel at the end of 2003. The work took four days to complete and, when the monks finished, they scraped the sand into a container and returned it to a body of water, as is custom — in this case, they marched down Main Street and scattered the sand from City Dock.

The lesson in Abbott's classroom incorporated reading, world history, geography and math. Students learned about where Tibetan monks are from, what they believe and why they make mandalas.

Abbott trains other teachers to incorporate art in their classes. She's taught teachers how to sing, dance and draw. She also visits classes — soon third-graders at the school will learn to retell fables using puppets they make.

Having a new school allowed her to have more of a say in what resources were purchased. She made sure there were art supplies — and instruments and props available, as well as dance space.

She hasn't encountered any reticence from teachers about integrating art.

"Here we all know what is happening, and we're there to support each other," she said, "and I think that is the difference."

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