Excerpt from “The Art of Stress Relief” by Peggy Dills Kelter
Featured in The Hood River News, March 9, 2011
Art Week has just concluded at my school. For the third year in a row, we have shut down the regular school schedule for four days and replaced it with a potpourri of creative offerings. Students select an artist with whom they would like to work. For a good portion of each day they let their creative juices flow. This year's choices included weaving, watercolor, bucket drumming and more.
The remarkable thing about Art Week is that there are hardly any behavior issues. In fact, the students who are notoriously naughty on any other school day are focused and productive. Every time I teach art to kids I am startled and delighted by this observation. And yet, I shouldn't be surprised. For many kids, Art Week is the only time when they shine. They go from being the "dumb" kids, or the misfits, and instead become the stars. They are stress-free, engaged and exquisitely happy What a tragedy that they don't have opportunities all year to demonstrate their talents.
After Art Week is over, many teachers ask their students to write about their experiences. This year, I do so with my native language literacy first-graders. One little boy, who spends a lot of time at school being reprimanded, studied printmaking with me. During our four days together he worked hard and stayed focused. He writes "Mrs. Keller es mi favorita maestra." (Mrs. Kelter is my favorite teacher.) I was never the kid who misbehaved, perhaps because I always had artistic outlets. My school district offered art from kindergarten through high school, and I took advantage of the offerings. These days, my job prevents me from spending much time making art. When I do get the opportunity to visit my studio, my stress falls away. As I open a tube of paint instead of a bottle of Tums, my ragged cuticles become stained with color. My jaw loosens and my sour stomach turns a little bit sweeter.
Columbia Gorge Arts In Education: Art Spies
CLASSROOM TEACHERS PROVIDE INNOVATIVE ART RECONNAISSANCE
ITS A COMMON QUESTION for arts organizations serving K-12 schools: How can we give the students and schools what they want and need? Moreover, how do we even find out what they need?
For Hood River's Columbia Gorge Arts In Education (CGAIE), serving 20 schools in three Oregon counties and one in Washington, the answer varied widely from school to school. Some schools had active PTAs and frequent arts residencies and others had no art supplies and little support from the administration. Moreover, CGAIE's role in the schools' art curriculum grew.
"We realized that our role was shifting from being a 'random act of art'," says CGAIE Director, Leith Gaines of their previous function providing arts residencies to the schools, "to now, in a lot of cases, the artists we brought in were the only art these kids were getting."
Building programs that are meaningful for the schools required identifying qualities in schools where Columbia Gorge AIE's programs worked. One constant emerged: strong relationships with teachers in those schools. "If we have a partner in a school that we know is supportive of the arts, then it's really easy to go to that school and make a project or residency work," says CGAIE grant writer Leigh Hancock.
In response, CGAIE started the Arts Advocate Program this year, recruiting fifteen advocates from twenty schools, most of whom are classroom teachers. After a training session in January, the advocates returned to their schools to complete an arts needs assessment of their school and to identify opportunities for further growth. By the next school year, CGAIE and the Art Advocates will have the information necessary to bring to the school boards and administrations to begin to craft an arts program for each individual school. Advocates also have the opportunity to share information as a group and to build a network between schools to identify and share best practices.
By enlisting eyes and ears in the schools, CGAIE hopes to create a continuity of arts education that many schools lack. "Our goal is to serve our communities better," says Gaines. "The way to do that is to have representatives and voices in the schools to tell us what's going on and what their needs are. We can't be at every school—now we've got someone there to help."
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