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Valley Perspective

Bringing the Arts to School, Through the Back Door

With help from the community, subjects reduced to the status of frills can again be a part of every student's education.

September 10, 2000|SPIKE DOLOMITE WARD | Spike Dolomite Ward, a Reseda artist, is a founder and president of Arts in Education Aid Council Inc., P.O. Box 2060, Burbank, CA 91507

The 2000-2001 school is just starting, and this year the kids of Vanalden Avenue Elementary will get to participate in the PTA-sponsored arts program Reflections--with real paint.

Last year was a different picture. As an artist, private art teacher for children and a new mom in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I had jumped in to chair Reflections at Vanalden, my son's school. It's a wonderful program, sponsored across the country by the National PTA to give kids a chance to learn about painting, drawing, literature, photography and music composition. But my enthusiasm for Reflections wasn't quite matched by the student body. The students hadn't had much formal art instruction, and the materials available to them for visual arts were only the standard construction paper, glue, crayons and tempera paint. Turnout was low.

Disappointed but determined to be a source of change, I offered to chair the program again this year, at my expense. I've ended up doing a lot more.

In digging to find out why the arts are not being taught in our public schools, I discovered a void that is not just another LAUSD blunder but a national tragedy. Over the past 30 years or so, the arts have been reduced to a frill, no longer regarded as an area of serious study in public education. Ironically, this absence parallels a decline in academic performance, increased dropout rates and the integrity of the overall community. So what is the solution?

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I didn't want to take the political route in trying to persuade the school board, inch by inch, penny by penny, that the arts need to be taught in all schools, and now. I'm not interested in going in the front door to match forces with the problem head-on, because after I open that door, there will be another and another. I decided to look for a back door and enter there.

That is how Arts in Education Aid Council Inc. was formed. I along with two other LAUSD moms, screenplay writer Anita Hamingson of Woodland Hills and actress and playwright Arden Teresa Lewis of North Hollywood, decided to form a nonprofit corporation to benefit the public school students of the San Fernando Valley by providing them with an arts education. We plan to work independent of but in cooperation with LAUSD. Vanalden, which is in Reseda, will be our pilot school. Our goal is to bring the arts to the students as quickly as possible without creating more stress for teachers and the administration.

As a grass-roots organization, we will depend on community and corporate sponsors for funding. We will rely on volunteers to serve as art docents during the school day, and we plan to employ local artists for after-school artist-in-residence workshops. We plan to provide funds for school buses ($250.00 each) to take students on field trips to art museums. We hope to sponsor a family art night or two to bring families onto campus to do art together. We also plan to organize a Valleywide student art exhibit. And we will make sure that the schools have proper art supplies for teachers to use within their curricula.

Twenty-five years ago in Jefferson County, Colo., I, like all the other students at my public school, had an opportunity to study the arts. For me it was pivotal. Aside from the training, the experience ignited a passion that I carry today and pass on, not only to my 6-year-old son but, I hope, to other children in the Valley.

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There will be many who criticize our group for not holding LAUSD more responsible for the lack of arts education and insisting that the district rectify the situation. Of course I hold the district responsible! But I don't want to be one more parent who complains but doesn't take action. I want to get the arts to the kids as soon as possible. Educational leaders are beginning to recognize that the public wants the arts back in school, but not all problems can be solved at once.

The Arts in Education Aid Council invites your help and participation as we work together to bring the arts back to school.

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