Taylor Neitzke, the Director of Education and myself, Lindsay Kaplan, the Director of Community Engagement at the Hollywood Theatre, took a short field trip to Evergreen Middle School and Quatama Elementary last month.  What we found were two incredible schools; one in the early stages of arts integration with enthusiasm and aspirations and the other; a well-oiled integration machine.  We were given a tour of both schools by a volunteer named Janis, who had played a vital role in jumpstarting the arts integration program development at Quatama several years prior.

As a new inductee in the Studio to School project, this was my first introduction to the sites of other grantees.  I really wasn’t sure what to expect but I was immediately impressed with the sheer scope of the initiative as a whole.  And as was revealed the following week at the convening, there is such an incredible spectrum of the work being done and so many students being reached.

The halls of Quatama Elementary sing with the proudly displayed student work of past projects embedded in natural sciences, math and history.  We visited a kindergarten classroom where tiny, opinionated people learn to code by playing with a robot named Cubetto.  As computer science skills in all contexts, including creative contexts, grow in demand, the need to educate our youth in coding and technology fluency continues to grow. Cubetto, an interface made with toddlers in mind, seems like a strong start, especially when paired with the “action cards” and assignments the kindergarten teacher created around the learning toy. The tool not only provides an introduction to coding as a concept but also helps to facilitate other social skills like listening, communicating and teamwork.  Watching the students work together (or not) to make this robot move from one landmark to another was pretty incredible to witness.

We were also given a presentation by a classroom of 6th graders who had made stop-motion animations of cell division for their science class.  The students were so eager to share their videos with us.  In small groups they had chosen materials, music, and a script to explain cell division using a stop-motion iPad app. Some of the students explained the process as well as the challenges of making something like this come together. They had clearly learned a lot and enjoyed the work, some of them giggling as they played it for us.

At Evergreen Middle School we visited a history class to observe an artist in residence who was working with the students to draw comic art based on current events.  We walked around and found some very topical comics relating to Black Lives Matter and presidential candidate, Donald Trump.  We were also shown a recent clay-based project which was nearing completion but teachers were encountering some technical and budgetary challenges to create a display case for the work the students had made.  This really stuck with me.  Having come from an art background and working in nonprofits with very limited budgets I am accustomed to asking organizations and skilled individuals for donated goods, services and expertise.  After speaking with a few teachers I learned that this is not necessarily an embedded practice in schools. This is something artists are generally good at; being scrappy and having a strong network of makers.  Beyond integrating arts into the classrooms is there also a way to connect artists and makers with schools not only as teachers but for resource sharing?

The thing that has stayed with me the most is Quatama Elementary’s practice of displaying work by all of their students.  The sheer volume of work proudly displayed emits a strong sense of school and student pride. The moment adults choose to showcase only a certain “quality” of student-made creative work is the moment when students begin to think that their interpretations and contributions aren’t valid or have to fit a certain mold to be successful. This, in my opinion, is the antithesis of creativity. The strength of art is that there is room for interpretation.  In art there is room for experimentation and room for many right answers and it’s so important that those kinds of explorations are encouraged rather than stifled. The leadership at Quatama clearly understands this.

The practice of engaging in scheduled site visits like these is invaluable. We are so often caught up in the intricacies of our daily tasks and individual projects that it’s easy to forget about how those tasks fit into the larger arts integration landscape. After the site visit I’m not only thinking about other Studio to School partners and wondering what they’re doing to further this mission, but wondering what other similar programs are doing around the country and how we can all learn more from each other.

-Lindsay Kaplan