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Arts Council Ponders After School Arts Classes

By The Editor, 2013-03-25
The California Education Code “declares that the arts and entertainment industries constitute the third largest business sector in the state.”

Therefore it is in the interest of all of us to preserve the artistic and economic benefits that accrue from a diverse and intensive training in the arts.

In his opening to an evening of discussion on the availability of after schools arts programs, Michael Buss, President of the Anaheim Arts Council, reminded the audience that for budgetary reasons arts education had almost entirely disappeared from most elementary schools. Dr. Jose Moreno, President of the Anaheim City School District provided the figures: Five years ago the school budget was $180 million. Today it is $156 million. He added that the arts were also squeezed out by the extraordinary focus on testing in English-language arts and mathematics.

The Anaheim City School District officials has one art-themed school (Loara Elementary), apart from which the arts are almost entirely absent. Some teachers have reported feeling uncomfortable about trying to incorporate the arts into their lesson material because of lack of training. Although The California Arts Project (TCAP) exists to train elementary school teachers how to incorporate the arts into their lessons, it will be a very long haul to train enough teachers to make up the deficiency.

The young child is naturally and instinctively creative in his exploration of the world about him (or her). Kids engage in all the elements of visual and performing arts when at play. "The young child is naturally and instinctively creative in his exploration of the world about him" They act out stories, they will readily sing and dance, and given suitable instruments, or noise makers, will soon discover rhythm and notation. Give paper, paint, crayons and glue to children and they will be absorbed for hours unwrapping their own innate creativity with pictures and crafts.

But by fifth grade most of that has been crushed out of our children. Unless schools actively encourage and teach the arts kids become shy about performance, reluctant to paint and draw, and miss out on the sheer joy of singing.

To the huge credit of the Anaheim Union High School Union they have made it a policy to sustain arts programs in their schools. But when 6th graders finally move up into Junior High school, teachers are confronted with students who are several years behind in arts education, according to state standards, and many kids need to be cajoled into participation in arts classes. They barely sing; they are reluctant to go on stage; they don’t care about trying in the visual arts. Dance may be a little better. Modern music and culture seems to keep the spark of dance alive and children who can break or shake usually draw the admiration of their peers. "It seems like a struggle to rekindle the flame of artistic creativity, or to engage the right side of the brain"It seems like a struggle to rekindle the flame of artistic creativity, or to engage the right side of the brain such that the kids develop a whole mind and bring their creativity to bear in the more left-brain, test intensive subjects. That said, the AUHSD works hard to equip their students with an arts education. At Junior High most students get exposed to the arts, but this can be challenging in high school with fewer periods in the day and the need to focus on college pre-requisites.

It is an unsatisfactory situation; one that works its way right through into the fact that too many students graduating high school are not sufficiently equipped for the worlds of college or career. Businesses need inventive leaders, imaginative workers who should bring a constant flow of fresh ideas to the competitive world of American commerce and industry.

This loss of the arts in elementary schools has persisted over several generations such that many parents of K-6 children no longer perceive what is missing in their children’s school education.

To the great credit of a wide band of non-profit organizations they have stepped up to attempt to fill the breach.

The forum on after schools arts classes heard from Program Director Ann Trovada, a representative of the Anaheim Family YMCA. Its Anaheim Achieves program is to be found in 46 schools in Anaheim – 37 of which are elementary schools. The program has a rich diversity and includes the arts at every site at some time or another. The most high risk behavior among youth occurs from 3-6pm, and at this time Anaheim Achieves keeps 5,000 kids off the streets in programs designed to develop better choices, and provide enrichment and support with school work. Not surprisingly, the "Y" has received wide recognition for this valuable service.

2-3 hours each week will focus on the arts, but this will really depend on the enrichment provider at each site. They may have classes for drums or guitar. "The YMCA will pay for and provide the instruments. At some sites there are art classes, hip hop and folklorico"The YMCA will pay for and provide the instruments. At some sites there are art classes, hip hop and folklorico. A weekly curriculum report is turned in by each site to document the art projects.

The ‘Y’ employs talented tutors in performing and visual arts, but they have their limits. They cannot take everyone. Parents who might well like to have their kids do after school art cannot necessarily enroll in the program. The breadth of need is simply too great.

The Boys and Girls Club also shared in the forum through its program director Ruby Colmenares, explaining how they collect kids from their neighborhoods – often the most vulnerable, underserved neighborhoods - and bus them in to focal locations. Like the "Y", the B&G Club provides a wide array of sports and activities, not merely keeping kids out of trouble, but giving them mentoring and positive reinforcement of a better lifestyle with better hopes for making a success of their lives.

We asked what arts were available to the youth, particularly in the light of the donation of art materials by the Arts Council in the fall of 2012? The Clubs are dependent on being able to get good arts teachers; not always an easy task. "Several members of the Anaheim Arts Association ... were soon ready to volunteer their time and talent" But several members of the Anaheim Arts Association, present for the forum, were soon ready to volunteer their time and talent to spend time with the youngsters putting the arts materials to good use. Another young art teacher stepped up to give her time to teach art with the boys and girls.

The evening of discussion was beginning to make relationships and develop skill sharing.

Further evidence of after school arts care for kids came from Michael Anderson of RYTMO (Reaching Youth Through Musical Opportunities) which has a stellar record of getting otherwise drifting youngsters into a technical and music environment where they can really see the potential of a career in commercial music.

Vanessa Sal from the Anaheim Ballet spoke about the after school Step-Up ballet program for kids (3:45-4:30pm) which is provided completely free of charge. Not only do the students find an extraordinary fulfillment in learning ballet basics, "they learn character development and a disciplined approach to life that then carries back into the school classroom"but they learn character development and a disciplined approach to life that then carries back into the school classroom where their academic work improves as a result.

At one time the Boys and Girls Club used to take youngsters over the Anaheim Ballet for classes.

At this point Dorothy Rose, Executive Director of Anaheim resident (Orange County) Symphony Orchestra explained how the Symphony has a number of musicians who tutor youngers in instrumental music after school, and that even more of the orchestra members would be willing to work with the "Y" or the B&G Club to provide more music tuition. It was clear that the mere fact of sharing what each group was doing was leading to ‘cross-pollination’ of ideas and personnel.

Finally Janis Heckel spoke on behalf of Community Services for the very wide range of arts (and other) programs provided by the city for its residents, youth and adult, all of which are listed in the quarterly Activity Guide. The Activity Gide may also be found online as a link from the City’s website

The youth classes are extremely popular. Although there is a cost attached, scholarships are available from a fund that is periodically topped up by the Anaheim Community Foundation, Disney, and others. The Artmobile (originally purchased by the Anaheim Arts Council) brings free art activities to kids in the parks from Monday through Friday.

The online guide presents a language, technology and communication barrier for many families. It’s all in English (at present), many poorer families do not have access to computers, and kids often do not tell their parents what they know is available.

The Activity Guide was at one time delivered "Community Services is not just Parks and Recreation; it includes the Library system which offers classes in drama and art, and also free computer use" to all the homes in Anaheim, but delivery was suspended because of budget cuts – and then enrolment in classes dropped off. Community Services is trying to find funding to resume home deliveries.

Ms. Heckel pointed out that Community Services is not just Parks and Recreation; it includes the Library system which offers classes in drama and art, and also free computer use.

The public forum proved to be a valuable time of sharing what after school offerings are available, and a number of good connections were made between individuals and organizations that should lead to improved art opportunities for local youth.

The main issue however remains that with all the non-profit energy poured into providing after school activity for young people, it is still impossible to give sufficient coverage to make up for what is missing from the schools.

At an AUHSD hosted meeting for community stakeholders last week we heard the heartening news that for the first time in several years the school district will not need to balance the budget on the backs of teachers – no pink slips. It may just be that the they have reached the bottom of the trend and that in the coming years improved revenues will mean a relaxation of budgetary restraints.

And if money begins to return to elementary school districts it is our fervent hope that they will return to hiring arts teachers.



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