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Building an Arts Bridge to Area Schools

November 20, 1996|LORI HAYCOX

The thunderous noise of 300 elementary school students clapping and stamping to a rhythmic beat rocked the walls of UC Irvine's Village Theatre on Tuesday.

The children, participants in the university's Arts Bridge program, were demonstrating what they have learned from a group of UCI arts students who visit their classrooms weekly to teach them song, dance, drama and photography.

"The arts have been taken away from children with cuts in school budgets, so we want to bring what we know to them," said Michael Najar, 22, a fourth-year music major at UCI.

Najar is one of 28 Arts Bridge scholars: undergraduate and graduate students who receive scholarships for going out into the community to educate others about the arts.

The group is now teaching in four Orange County school districts: Santa Ana Unified, Irvine Unified, Anaheim City and Newport-Mesa Unified.

The Arts Bridge program, funded entirely by private and corporate sponsors, is free to schools.

"What our donors are providing are scholarships for UCI students, art education to classrooms from which it had been cut, and art supplies like disposable cameras that schools themselves can't afford to buy," said Jill Beck, dean of UCI's School of Arts.

Orange County elementary students have been Arts Bridge participants since April, when Beck started the program. Tuesday was the first time the youngsters had been invited to the university to share what they had learned with professors and students from other schools.

"I learned how to act, how to make gestures. I know how to do clown work," said Eduardo Dominquez, 10, a fifth-grader at Patrick Henry Elementary School in Anaheim. On stage Tuesday, he portrayed happiness by smiling and waving his arms in the air like a champion.

Said Felipe Zapien, 9, a fourth-grader at Heninger Elementary School in Santa Ana: "I learned pictures are worth a thousand words." He shared with the audience photographs of his year-old nephew taken with a disposable camera.

"I know when it is dark you push flash, and when you're outside you don't," he explained.

Elementary school teachers who accompanied the students expressed their appreciation for the Arts Bridge program.

"They're getting opportunities for free that even children in more advantaged neighborhoods would have to pay for," said Raymond Gillespie, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Heninger.

UCI's Beck sees the arts program not only as an extracurricular activity, but as an introduction to higher education or possibly even a career.

"The California economy needs artists. The entertainment industry, the multimedia companies are hiring people from out of state and overseas," she said.

"Part of what we are trying to achieve is the goal of educating our own children for own work force."

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