Parents and teachers get creative about keeping arts in school
While budget cuts in Brisbane schools mean larger class sizes or pink slips for some teachers, in many schools they also translate into eliminating activities like band, music, sports, drama, choir, and art. Scores of schools in Alameda county for instance don't have art class as part of the structured curriculum anymore, and that has led to parents and teachers getting creative about art education.
One example is Delaine Eastin Elementary school in Union City in the East Bay. That’s where KALW's Hana Baba's child goes to school. There, the children may not have a structured art class, but they are immersed in the world of artistic expression through a parent-sponsored program called Art Vistas.
KALW’s Hana Baba visited the school to find out how it works.
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HANA BABA: This is Mr. Charles Austin's 3rd grade class. But today, parent volunteer Kate Sprotte is sitting in the teacher's chair, with the class on the carpet facing her. They're discussing a late 19th century painting she's showing them.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN [in unison]: Woah!
KATE SPROTTE: This one is entitled "The Russian Bride's Attire" by Makovsky.
Sprotte asks the children what artistic concepts they notice in the painting.
SPROTTE: Where is the light entering the room into this picture? Yes, in the back.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: Over there on the left.
SPROTTE: On the left side of the picture shining in from the...
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: Window.
SPROTTE: From the window. Yes, tell me...
And they talk about what cultural differences they notice between today and the 1800s, in a serious way. A kid in the front raises his hand.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: It's long ago...
SPROTTE: It's long ago...
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: When queens and kings rule, instead of lawyers we have now.
The 3rd graders are engaged, eyes wide open. It’s a chance to show off what artistic concepts they've learned over the school year in this class: color, patterns, lighting, perspective.
But this isn't part of the public school curriculum. It's a private program brought to the school by parents and teachers called “Art Vistas.” Since budget cuts have forced public schools to cancel art class, parents with artistic inclinations volunteer their time to give the students a lesson in art. They're called docents.
Six fridays a year, they come and immerse the kids in a variety of art forms. Each time, they first sit together to hear the docent talk about a painting, sculpture, or other piece of art. Then, it's their turns to get their hands dirty, literally.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: When you put the blue and purple hearts, and white hearts, it's really good...
Across the hall in Mrs. Debbie Brazeal's 3rd grade class, the kids have already had the sit-down part of the session, and are now working on an art project ─ the final one of the year. In front of each of them are pieces of rectangular cloth, cut-up sponges, and tubs of paint. Nine-year-old Anela Larsen breaks down what they're doing.
ANELA LARSEN: We're doing tempera painting and were taking this sponge and I'm using red hearts and blue stars to see what they make.
Their hands are a colorful mess of purple, red, and yellow paint. They chat and giggle, sometimes looking serious as they carefully make the painty prints. This is clearly a class they look forward to. So I go towards one table that has four girls around it.
SHARANYA KUMAR: Sharanya Kumar.
KIANA KWONG: Kiana Kwong.
ADRIANA TOVAR: Adriana Tovar.
NORA HAYANI: Nora Hayani.
Nora Hayani speaks up when I ask them how they would feel without this art class.
HAYANI: It wouldn't be fun without Art Vista and no art, yeah.
Then the girls list their favorite projects of the year.
HAYANI: We did some feelings, like, we drew people and their feelings.
KWONG: And we did clowns, and people at work and people at play. See those are the people at play creations up there.
BABA: Wow, you did those up there?
KWONG: Yeah, with wire.
And, the girls remember one particular painting they studied, mostly for it's creepiness factor.
KUMAR, KWONG, TOVAR, HAYANI [in unison]: The Mona Lisa!
BABA: And what did you think about the Mona Lisa?
HAYANI: She was just staring! And then wherever we tried to go, it was staring still at us.
KWONG: Haley stood up and Mrs. Herrington told her to walk around and it kept looking at her!
Mrs. Herrington is Lori Herrington, an active member of the school's parent-teacher club and an Art VIstas docent. She is gathering today's sponge-paint cloth art, labeling it, and hanging it to dry.
HERRINGTON: One of the things we've really concentrated on in 3rd grade art is rhythm and pattern. This is the last lesson and it brought together all the elements that they've been learning all year into one lesson. And this, I have to say, was the project all the kids seemed to really enjoy. Sometimes you have one or two who sit there and say, "I don't want to do this," but this one, they all jumped in and got their hands wet and I love that!
Herrington says such art appreciation nowadays can only be possible with an engaged Parent-Teacher Club like they have here at Eastin Elementary. The PTC has been able to sponsor the program for the past three years, buying the art supplies and keeping the program going through fundraising and parent donations.
HERRINGTON: I think we have a great group of volunteers. We have an incredible, these women - not just women, these moms and dads and grandmothers - they come in and they just pick up the supplies and it’s so well organized that they don’t have to really work hard.
Eastin is the only school in the district that has an Art Vistas program. In all other schools, whether or not kids get any art education depends solely on the teacher's ability to fit it in within the curriculum. And that can be tricky, says Mrs. Brazeal.
DEBBIE BRAZEAL: We do some art in class, I do some, but not nearly as much as I'd like. I'm so busy trying to do reading and math and writing and science and social studies that there just isn't the time to put as much time as I'd like. Next week we’re doing handprint animals with paint. So they’re going to make an animal and write about it. That's how I get art in, I sneak it in when I can! I say sneak, I don’t mean sneak, but I have to fit it into my regular curriculum.
The art the kids make is also key in helping raise the funds to keep Art Vistas going. Parent docent Lori Herrington.
HERRINGTON: Well, every year we have a gallery night. And at this gallery night we have an auction. At the auction we auction off items that the kids have made together in their classrooms. Hopefully we'll raise $3,000 so the next year we are already paid for.
It's Gallery night, and the school's gym has been transformed into an art gallery, with hundreds of artworks on display and for sale. Paintings, clay masks, fabric collages, black and white photography - you'd think you were in a children's art museum. Families mingle, kids grab their parents' hands to show them what they've made, docents try to rile up the bidding crowd. Docent Karen Kelly is standing at a table selling snacks and little notecards with the kids art on them.
KAREN KELLY: What we've determined is it's about $3.70 to bring art to one student for the whole year. So a lot of people are happy if they can to pay at least for their own student. A lot of people are putting in $4, some not at all, and somebody came by saying, "I've got $12 in my pocket, here you go!"
As hundreds of family members browse through the aisles of art to see what they want to bid on, one piece of art seems to be drawing a crowd. It's a collage of tiny photos of the kids in Mrs. Chew's 2nd grade class, stuck together to form a huge framed butterfly. The bidding is fierce, as the parents and their kids fight over the clipboard with the bids written on it. All for a good cause, right?
UNIDENTIFIED PARENT: So I tell ya, whoever last holds the clipboard will have it!!
At this point, the bidding is at $100.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I'm the last one!
Then, it's time to wrap up the bidding.
CROWD: 3, 2, 1...(cheers)
And the winning bid?
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: $250! (cheers)
As the year comes to an end at Eastin Elementary, the school family is bracing for more expected budget cuts and teacher pink slips. But at least one thing is certain: they made over $3,000 tonight, and that means next year the kids can get their little hands messy all over again.
Click here to find out how to bring Art Vistas to your school next school year.