Studio to School

A deeper district & community-level commitment to the arts

E Journal #15 / Sisters Folk Festival 

June 12, 2019 ~ What went particularly well this year and why?

The principle of SFF year 5 focus:  To provide comprehensive, relevant and systemic opportunities for students to engage in arts learning.

The impact of the Studio to School 5-year initiative has been visible through a number of accomplishments this year. In addition to deepening the K-8 visual arts and music programs and reflecting on the collaborative work of our core S2S team, we focused on planning priorities that will sustain the SSD arts programs beyond the end of S2S grant funding and celebrated school/community connections through four guest artist events and residencies this spring.

In August of 2018, Sisters Schools Superintendent Curt Scholl demonstrated the district’s commitment to the goals of S2S by agreeing to have two new administrators–Alison Baglien, principal at Sisters Middle School, and Joan Warburg, principal at Sisters Elementary School–attend the rendezvous in Pendleton on their first days on the job.  This proved to be immensely helpful in building collaboration and planning between the new principals, our S2S core team, and the SFF Education Committee.  We now have a more comprehensive approach to implementation and planning for sustainability, with budget and schedule considerations identified for the 2019-20 school year. In many ways, the growth of the partnership between the Sisters Folk Festival and the Sisters School District has been a validation that the 5-year concept worked.  Through changes in administrators and teachers, the culture and value of the arts has been affirmed and nurtured as a key tenet of the Sisters School District.

With visual arts programming solidly in place and arts integration growing, we were able to showcase student work in a more community-centered approach this year. During the Sisters Elementary art shows in May, K-4 students shared their art portfolios with enthusiastic parents and community members. The development of digital portfolios for 4th grade students has also been an effective way to develop parents’ awareness of students’ development throughout the year. The 2nd annual Sisters Middle School Art Expo was a showcase for visual arts, the after-school strings program, arts integration, and digital technology, grades 5-8.  Attendance at the Expo doubled from the previous year and included families, community members, school board members, and a journalist from our local paper. A four-gallery walking tour to Sisters art galleries in the fall gave 7th and 8th grade art students opportunities to engage with local artists and established connections that resulted in artists volunteering their time to teach ceramics and glass lessons.

In music education we made great strides in tying together our K-12 curriculum and programs. The Sisters School District hired a highly qualified K-4 music educator, Sara Miller, who then was supported through the grant by purchasing a new Quaver music curriculum. Also through S2S support, Ms. Miller started the Sisters Outlaw Singers, a grade 4/5 kids’ choir that meets before school. During the winter term 28 students participated and gave multiple community performances.  This foundation in music at the elementary level, coupled with a deep investment in middle and high school music education through the Americana Project at SMS and SHS, general music piano lab, after-school strings class, SMS middle jazz combo, and music engineering class at SHS has helped to create a robust K-12 music program that is accessible to all students in the Sisters School District. We will continue to support the refinement of a curriculum scope and sequence for K-12 music education in the Sisters schools.

To celebrate the culmination of the five-year grant and to further integrate programming, we developed a plan for four guest artists/artist residencies that focused on the My Own Two Hands (MOTH) theme “We All Belong”, engaged students with the school and community, and tied in with our Community Arts Fundraiser. This theme came directly from the diversity training our S2S team attended in Portland through OCF.

The first experience was a field trip for all middle school students to the Tower Theatre in Bend to see Recycled Percussion, a drumming, multi-media show. Students were motivated and inspired by a program that explored themes of dreaming big, taking risks, setting their goals high and sticking with them. This engaging cultural experience was a hit with students and administrators.

In April Gary Hirsch, a Portland-based visual artist and educator, created a three-day Sisters residency around JoyBots (small robot-like creatures painted on dominoes). His question to students was “Who helps you belong?” This multi-media visit, involving 3rd through 8th grade students, as well as a presentation to high school students on belonging, resulted in JoyBot making and distribution as well as a permanent art installation at Sisters Middle School and a Saturday paint-in with parents and community members.

In May, West African drummer Dale Largent taught a three-day drumming residency to all students in SES, and then led the parade for My Own Two Hands with hand-made drums created by the students. Themes of teamwork, belonging and contribution permeated his visit. Lastly, as a way to engage our community and reach out to include our Hispanic/Latino population more directly, we booked Las Cafeteras, a Chicano/Mexican-American band from East L.A. to work in the schools and celebrate cultural identity. The band performed for all 7th and 8th grade students in a workshop/concert setting, with Q & A at the end. This led to a packed house for our My Own Two Hands Community Arts Fundraiser with the newly formed Sisters Outlaw Singers kids choir performing; a multi-generational community drum jam, and a concert performance by the band celebrating, We All Belong.

As the S2S initiative concludes, the Sisters core team’s sense of accomplishment and continued commitment to the arts is at a high point, and the maturity of the core team and stories of inter-connection are encouraging. Partnerships with public schools always involve a changing landscape, but we believe the S2S initiative has been instrumental in deepening the investment, commitment and dedication to transforming our schools and community into an arts-based place. The Sisters School District has recently finished their mission and vision work, identifying three core tenets: connect, inspire, and belong. We believe the S2S initiative and Sisters Folk Festival have been key to developing the district’s and community’s commitment to music and arts education as critical to the success of every student.

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