Teaching Artists Help a School District Restore Arts Education
Can the work teaching artists do in school districts impact a district’s long-term arts programming? Absolutely!, as illustrated by the Twin Rivers Unified School District in northern Sacramento, California.
Founded in 2008 when four districts merged, Twin Rivers Unified School District saw more than $100 million in state cuts during its first three years of existence. This exacerbated an already difficult situation for arts education in the district composed of primarily Title I schools. Most elementary schools had no credentialed arts specialists in any of the disciplines. Middle schools had a few arts education offerings, often available only as electives, and the arts programming in the high schools varied by school, but did not come close to matching what more affluent districts in the region could offer or what the state mandates.
In spite of this, the district’s arts education leadership was determined to provide what arts education programming they could, using resources from the local arts community. They brought in programming from the region’s arts organizations, found grants to take students to arts events, and contracted with regional teaching artists for residencies and workshops.
Under the leadership of Arts Curriculum Facilitator Jacqueline White, the district leveraged its collaboration with local teaching artists to set a course for re-instating arts education programming in all of its 50 schools. The District engaged teaching artists through independent relationships nurtured in the community, through Federal Department of Education grants utilizing teaching artists, and through its role as a founding partner of the Kennedy Center’s initiative, Any Given Child Sacramento. In addition, the District partners with the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission and others to host regular professional development opportunities that bring classroom teachers, administrators and teaching artists together to share perspectives, nurture teachers’ arts-specific skills, develop and strengthen collaborations, and build a culture that values arts education district-wide.
“Arts education is an integral part of a child’s development and ability to become college and career ready”, says Jacqueline White. “Artists bring a different lens to each student’s perception of the arts. The diverse backgrounds artists bring are a testimony to students about the endless possibilities the arts offer. Artists help students see a place for themselves in the world regardless of the students’ other strengths.”
Along with Superintendent Dr. Steven Martinez and other staff committed to arts education, these teaching artists have helped increase appreciation for how important arts education is for every student. Recently, the District’s board approved a Strategic Plan to provide sequential arts learning for students aged Pre-K through Adult. It includes goals to include arts integration as core instructional practice and secure funding sources that will keep arts programs sustainable. In line with providing regular daily arts education experiences for all students, Twin Rivers is hiring a total of 24 arts specialists for new choral music, general music, and visual arts positions for the 2014-15 school year. Their strategic Visual and Performing Arts plan includes an additional 18 positions to be filled in 2015-16, and 9 more in 2016-17.
Teaching artists helped pave the way for these positions to be created in the district, demonstrating the impact of strong arts teaching on student engagement, and critical and creative thinking. As the goals of the district plan are reached, different opportunities for teaching artists will emerge to enrich the daily arts instruction these students will receive. Teaching artists working in school settings can help bring about change at the district level!
Erika Boardman Kraft is Education Director for the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, and a member of the governing board of Teaching Artists Support Collaborative of California. Laura Norman is Arts Program Associate for the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission.