Engaging Students
In and out of
the Classroom

SHARP partners with educators to foster a love of learning and brighten children’s futures through innovative STEAM-based experiential programs.

We bring learning to life by actively engaging students with hands-on activities, educational tours, collaborative summer and after-school programs, mural projects, multi-generational reading programs and more. Our unique approach leads to demonstrable outcomes with students increasing background knowledge.

STEAM Core and Summer Programs

Students participating in the core program and summer program gain grade level content area background knowledge in STEAM concepts through arts-integrated workshops.  Each workshop includes collaborative activities geared toward visual, kinesthetic and auditory learners. The Artful Thinking Palette is woven throughout the curricula. Techniques called thinking routines from the Artful Thinking Palette allow students to build critical thinking skills while looking closely at art images and nonfiction text. Thinking routines also promote student engagement and conversation, tools that are essential skills for future learners. Another major component of each workshop is a hands-on visual art project that helps build background knowledge and art skills through inquiry and the art making process. In addition, students participate in collaborative writing or drawing to learn activities geared towards building content area background knowledge.


SHARP’s STEAM Core Program teaches K3-5th grade students STEAM concepts through arts integration while promoting curiosity, discovery, communication and perseverance. The program runs during the school year, aligning with and reinforcing grade level curriculum. Each grade level explores a topic ranging from living things, plants, seasons, and pollinators to the water cycle, the salmon life cycle, composting, and aquaponics.  Experiential learning occurs through the 3 main components of the program:

• SHARP educator led collaborative workshops
• Educational tours with partnering sites
• The Student Writing and Art Project (SWAP)

The 3 components are geared towards all types of learners by incorporating visual, kinesthetic and auditory activities.  Students work collaboratively practicing reading strategies, writing, and creating  hands-on art projects with mixed media. Through the creative process, students gain content knowledge and develop critical thinking skills. They build confidence and motivation to become lifelong learners.

In addition, SHARP provides professional development opportunities and extensions for teachers about STEAM and arts integration in the classroom.

Summer Programs

Explore MKE

Students explore many features of Milwaukee such as community, neighborhoods and culture through arts-integrated workshops.

Urban Agriculture

Students explore the purpose and importance of urban agriculture and methods used to grow healthy food such as aquaponics and vermicomposting.

Design Through Code 1.0

Coding is the language of the future. Learning to code can help students succeed in our increasingly connected world. Beyond digital literacy, the process of learning to code promotes essential skills that are valuable across a variety of disciplines from problem-solving and logic, to collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. Through SHARP Literacy’s “Design Through Code” (DTC) program, the organization provides 4th grade and 5th grade students the tools and techniques to become future-ready.   

SHARP’s Education Team has collaborated with numerous organizations to develop the DTC program including Northwestern Mutual, Rockwell Automation, Design Fugitives, Quad/Graphics, UWM’s Girls Who Code Club, the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, the Wisconsin Dept. of Public Instruction and many others. These individuals vary from experts in technology, engineering, design thinking, art and education and have been instrumental in helping SHARP Literacy’s Education Team to further develop the curriculum, educational field trips and assessments for this program.  

In the DTC program, upper elementary students learn about the fundamentals of coding through both “unplugged’ (offline) and “plugged” (online) activities. Both unplugged and plugged lessons build knowledge and understanding in different ways, while creating an engaging and collaborative classroom environment.   

The program culminates with a “Design Challenge” – a collaborative project that challenges students to solve a problem they see at school. Working together, students use their knowledge of coding, art and the design process to create a prototype solution to the problem they’ve identified. After creating an artistic rendering with code, a physical prototype and a group presentation about their project, students present their projects to a panel of professionals in STEAM careers. Student groups present their projects to this panel of professionals and in turn gain confidence in their work while also seeing a future for themselves in STEAM.  

Beginning in the 2019—20 school year, SHARP has expanded its Design Through Code 1.0 program for 4th grade students. Thanks to a partnership with the Milwaukee Bucks and Fiserv, the program has been expanded to include two new partner schools in Milwaukee. Additionally, the program has grown from 16 sessions to 18 sessions to allow for the inclusion of key financial literacy concepts in the 4th grade curriculum. For the first time, 4th grade students also now need to use their resources wisely and flex their financial savvy to build their prototypes in the “Design Challenge.” Working together in small teams, students must use their limited budget of “SHARP Bucks” to purchase the necessary supplies for building their prototypes. Using a line-item budget sheet, students track how much money they’ve spent, how they’ve allocated their resources and how much of their budget they’ll save for the future.  

SHARP’s DTC program also gets students out of the classroom and into the field. Educational tours allow students to explore how and where technology and design intersect. Students in our Milwaukee DTC program visit the campus of the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD) to see how college students use art and technology to create solutions to real-world problems. The tour focuses on renderings and prototypes created by MIAD students, which both inspires and prepares DTC students for success in the Design Challenge projects. Students in our Waukesha DTC program travel to a Quad/Graphics plant to see how an international company uses technology and graphic design to serve their clients. In both educational tours, students not only see technology and art working together, they also see a variety of paths to future careers and educational opportunities.   

Partner Schools (2018-19 School Year)  

  • Banting Elementary (School District of Waukesha)  
  • Doerfler Elementary School (MPS) 
  • Escuela Vieau Elementary School (MPS) 
  • Forest Home Elementary School (MPS) 
  • Notre Dame Girls Middle School (Milwaukee)  
  • Rogers Street Academy (MPS) 
  • Summit View Elementary (School District of Waukesha)  
  • Whittier Elementary (School District of Waukesha) 

Partner Schools (2019-20 School Year)  

  • Augustine Prep (Milwaukee) 
  • Escuela Vieau Elementary School (MPS) 
  • Forest Home Elementary School (MPS) 
  • Hmong American Peace Academy (Milwaukee Public Charter) 
  • Notre Dame Girls Middle School (Milwaukee)  
  • Prairie Elementary (School District of Waukesha)  
  • Rogers Street Academy (MPS) 
  • Summit View Elementary (School District of Waukesha)  
  • Victory Elementary (MPS)  
  • Westside Academy (MPS)  
  • Whittier Elementary (School District of Waukesha) 

Beyond the Classroom

Part of our approach is the extension of educational experiences beyond the classroom. Student learning deepens through curriculum-based educational tours to Milwaukee and Waukesha County museums and attractions. These arts-integrated tours help bring challenging science and social studies ideas and academic vocabulary to life.

Intergenerational Program

Through a unique partnership with a school and a senior center, SHARP Literacy brings together elementary school children and older adults through reading and art. SHARP’s Intergenerational program gets students out of the classroom and into their community. Through reading, writing, conversation and art, students and seniors build meaningful relationships with each other. Participants of all ages celebrate an excitement for lifelong learning, curiosity and compassion.

“My senior friend has some trouble hearing, but over time we discovered that we both really like to read.” – 5th grade student at Messmer St. Mary’s

“I learned that meeting new people can be nice. If you talk to new people, you might have some things in common and find new friends.” – 4th grade student at Victory School

“These visits with the seniors show my students that what we’re learning about it in school is relevant. It’s not just that reading is important. It shows them the importance of being respectful, empathetic and how to be a part of a community. It brings tears to my eyes”– 5th grade teacher at Whittier Elementary

“Our seniors enjoy every moment of these visits. The connections made from day one were truly amazing.” – Nina Birschbach, Program Director at Shorehaven Living

Senior Living Partners

  • Ovation Chai Point in Milwaukee
  • Ovation Sarah Chudnow in Mequon
  • Shorehaven in Oconomowoc

School Partners

  • Victory School (MPS)
  • Messmer St. Mary’s
  • Whittier Elementary (School District of Waukesha)




After-school Learning Program

To extend student learning beyond the school day, SHARP also provides after-school learning opportunities at partner sites. The program provides a modified version of our school-year curriculum that suits the specific needs of the after-school environment. Just as with our other programs, SHARP’s curriculum focuses on building students’ academic skills in tandem with developing essential life skills of creativity, collaboration and complex problem solving. Reading and other academic content is blended with hands-on art projects and experiential learning.

In partnership with Silver Spring Neighborhood Center, students from Milwaukee’s Westlawn neighborhood participate in SHARP’s Greenhouse Revitalization Project at Browning Elementary. The students are an integral part of the project, from growing plants in the greenhouse to loading the solar dehydrator with fruits and vegetables (designed and installed by students from MSOE).

Recent partners include:

  • Browning Elementary (MPS)
  • Thurston Woods School (MPS)
  • City on a Hill

Integrative Projects

Each year, SHARP works with a select number of schools on integrative projects, such as creating public art murals or developing books that are professionally published. These students work with a professional author or artist in a series of workshops that engage them in inquiry-based, hands-on research. The authors and artists collaborate with educators to develop arts-integrated learning experiences that draw out students’ curiosity and help them make connections between their lives and the real world subjects they study. They also learn how to ask deep questions regarding what they think might be significant to an outside audience and apply critical thinking skills toward an authentic goal that lives beyond the classroom.

Learn More About Our Programs