CREATE CA Convening January, 2015: Fostering a Renaissance in Arts Education for California Schools

on February 26, 2015 Comments Off on CREATE CA Convening January, 2015: Fostering a Renaissance in Arts Education for California Schools

By Dr. Kristen Paglia, Chief Executive Officer

Last month I had the pleasure of attending Destination: Creative Schools – From Blueprint to Action, hosted by CREATE CA at the Oakland School for the Arts. CREATE [Core Reforms Engaging the Arts to Education] CA is led by five leadership organizations, including: The California Alliance for Arts Education, CCSESA, California Department of Education, the California Arts Council, and the California State PTA. Five appointed individuals from the field also work to further the CREATE CA agenda to create “an educational environment for all California students that features arts education as a central part of the solution to the crisis in our schools,” a goal we obviously share at P.S. ARTS.

This gathering celebrated the debut of the CREATE CA publication, “A Blueprint for Creative Schools:  A Report to State Superintendent of Public Education Tom Torlakson” (2015). I was honored to contribute to this document alongside 100 other professionals in the field, and I have to say that it was pretty exciting to see two years of intense discussion and hard work finally in print. Even better, though, was the call to action made by CREATE CA’s five organizational leaders… From Blueprint to Action! Admittedly, patience is not a virtue most people associate with me, and so I was pleased and relieved when it became clear that this convening was not going to be yet another strategy conversation or “visioning” session (not knocking visioning at all, just making a point that, in arts education, visioning is sometimes as far as we get).

Since its founding by Arts Education activist and recipient of the Americans for the Arts 2014 Arts Education Award, Malissa Shriver, the CREATE CA coalition has been about action. Even the term “blueprint” versus the much more commonly heard in arts education “plan,” indicate that this work is about building a foundation and moving toward a destination. This convening of leaders in the field reflected a restless tone – people who are on the ground and seeing the state of some of California’s failing schools and who know that the arts are key to overall school improvement. It isn’t good enough to meet Federal benchmarks stipulating a level of proficiency students cannot fall below. We can do better.

The underlying value of the CREATE CA coalition is that California should “ensure each student reaches his or her full potential by broadening California’s educational vision, policy, and practices to promote innovation, economic development, and creativity.” Full potential!  This is one of the core values and curriculum directives at P.S. ARTS. Every child – regardless of socioeconomic, language, cognitive-developmental, or any other barrier to learning – deserves a targeted education that supports his or her ability to succeed in school and beyond. I teach an entire course in the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture based on this specific standard for excellence in education.  That is, the arts are a flexible and effective tool for differentiating teaching practice, measuring progress accurately, and engaging students in school so that every child’s needs are met, even in highly diverse, crowded classrooms. The Oakland convening featured workshops and conversations focused on achieving a public education system with the arts and creativity at the center. Inspirational and strategic coaching keynote speakers included Bryonn Bain (Lyrics from Lockdown), Randy Nelson (Apple University), Sarah Crowell (Destiny Arts), and Michelle Lee (Youth Speaks).

So, Bravo! CREATE CA. I am looking forward to the work ahead. To learn more about where we are going in the arts education field and how we plan to get there, check out “A Blueprint for Creative Schools” at To learn more about the CREATE CA coalition, visit

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P.S. ARTSCREATE CA Convening January, 2015: Fostering a Renaissance in Arts Education for California Schools

Inside Out Community Arts Mentor Natalie Resendiz on the “Encourage Creativity” series

on February 20, 2015 Comments Off on Inside Out Community Arts Mentor Natalie Resendiz on the “Encourage Creativity” series

An Inside Out Community Arts (IOCA) Mentor, Natalie Resendiz, was recently featured in the Americans for the Arts’ “Encourage Creativity” video series. We asked Natalie to share her experiences on this project, and we loved hearing about the process and her time as a student (and now mentor) in one of our programs!

P.S. ARTS: Describe your role as an IOCA Mentor; what motivated you to become a mentor?

Natalie: As an IOCA Mentor, I have had the chance to participate in play creation, workshops, and learning experiences that not many people my age get to have. When you’re a mentor you are the bridge between Artist Leaders and students. You are the center of what makes this a powerful program. When I was in my final year of The School Project (TSP), I was absolutely sure that I was not ready to leave; being a mentor allowed me to continue to gain valuable experiences from such a wonderful program.

P.S. ARTS: What is the “Encourage Creativity” series?

Natalie: The “Encourage Creativity” series is a set of four videos that aim to advocate for arts education. They strive to “inform your community, inspire your friends, and impact the world.” Take a look at the complete series HERE.

P.S. ARTS: How did you get involved?

Natalie: Kristen Engebretsen, who used to work with IOCA and now works for Americans for the Arts is my friend on social media. She said she really liked my energy in my Instagram videos and asked if I’d be interested in narrating a short video on the importance of arts education. It turned out that I was not only narrating – I would be starring in the video as well! We filmed at an elementary school in Santa Monica for 13 hours over two days. The process was entirely professional and as someone who doesn’t spend much time in front of a camera, this was beyond my wildest dreams. I could not believe that I was given an opportunity like this one simply because of my experiences with IOCA!

P.S. ARTS: What is the main thing you hope people will take away from this video?

Natalie: I hope that people understand that arts education really does help all those who participate. It’s not a myth; it’s real and it’s helpful. Art is meaningful and wonderful. I hope that those who want to be involved get involved! I hope others can use these videos as a resource to advocate for arts in their communities.

P.S. ARTS: How has being involved in IOCA impacted your life?

Natalie: When I was in the program, I wasn’t what many would consider a “troubled” student. I enjoyed school, I was outgoing and I did well in what I chose to participate in, but I didn’t exactly have what is considered an “easy” life. IOCA introduced me to a world that I didn’t know existed, which has helped me through some of the best and worst experiences of my life thus far; it has made me live an enriched life because I appreciate so much more as a result of what IOCA has taught me.

IOCA has always given me opportunities that I would have never imagined. The relationships I have created with my Artist Leaders, fellow Mentors, and our students are truly meaningful. I have been featured in blogs, in arts education videos, been in two musicals, received scholarships — I have even had a short play written about my life, all because of my time with IOCA. IOCA has given me a love that I will never lose: a family, I will always have and a life I have always deserved. 

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P.S. ARTSInside Out Community Arts Mentor Natalie Resendiz on the “Encourage Creativity” series

Week of the Young Child!

on April 16, 2015 Comments Off on Week of the Young Child!

By Allison Schaub, Advancement Associate

Since the early 1970s, the National Association for the Education of Young Children has held an annual celebration called Week of the Young Child (WOYC). During this designated week in April, individuals, communities and organizations across the nation join together to assess how we can better meet the needs of our youngest learners (birth – age 8) and their families. It also provides an opportunity to celebrate the programs and services that are working to meet these needs.

With that said, Happy WOYC! With each week feeling busier than the next, I decided this was an opportune time to stop for a few moments each day during WOYC and reflect on everything that was happening around the P.S. ARTS office. Here are just a few of my observations…

10:00 AM, Saturday April 11, 2015
Inclusive Arts Day

Students and their families are invited to take part in P.S. ARTS’ Inclusive Arts Day at Grand View Blvd. Elementary School for an afternoon of creativity and fun. With help from adaptive art supplies, students of all abilities could enjoy each activity. This provided a wonderful opportunity for the community to see how an inclusive arts education can help meet the diverse needs of our students.

For more event pictures, please visit our Flickr album!

2:00 PM, Monday April 13, 2015
Things Get Messy

P.S. ARTS staff happily (yes, happily!) moves our cars from the parking lot in order to create space for an afternoon of painting prep for scenery flats used by the Inside Out Community Art theater program. While street parking in Venice may not be easy, it was well worth it and we can’t wait to see how the primed flats will be transformed for the students’ performances.

9:00 AM, Tuesday April 14, 2015

Held at City Hall, Arts Day LA provides the opportunity for Angelenos to come together to celebrate the arts and culture in our city, and to share with elected officials why the arts matter. Programs Associate, Amy Knutson and Communications Associate, Jacob Campbell attended in support of arts education.

11:00 AM, Tuesday April 14, 2015
Working It Out From the Inside Out

It was decided one day at a staff meeting that we would learn the Inside Out song all together. Today was the day and there was no better teacher than Artist Leader Rolando Zee, who created dance choreography last year to help remember the lyrics. With Rolando’s enthusiasm, excellent instruction and a little patience, we had a BLAST learning the song.

4:00 PM, Tuesday April 14, 2015
Family Art Night x2!

Juan de Anza Elementary and Beethoven St. Elementary host Family Art Nights this evening. As of March, we have served 4,300 students and families through our Family Art Nights and other community engagement activities. Click here for a list of upcoming events and volunteer opportunities.

12:00 PM, Wednesday April 15, 2015
Confluence 2015

Chief Program Officer, Elda Pineda is in Sacramento for Confluence 2015, a statewide convening for arts education. We’re thrilled and filled with pride that Elda is representing P.S. ARTS at the state capitol, and look forward to hearing what she learned from other movers and shakers in California’s arts community.

Our schedules may be jam-packed, but our students make the busy days so worth it! During WOYC, we want to recognize our 20,000 young learners who continue to inspire and energize us each and every day.

For more information of Week of the Young Child, click HERE!

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P.S. ARTSWeek of the Young Child!

Five Lessons from Confluence 2015

on April 30, 2015 Comments Off on Five Lessons from Confluence 2015

By Elda Pineda, Chief Program Officer

At P.S. ARTS, we are well aware that no matter how fantastic our programs are, our reach is limited by our resources. Yes, we’re proud to serve 20,000 students each week, and it seems like a large number until you consider the fact that there are 9.1 million children in California. If we ever hope to truly make an impact on the way our children are educated, we have to advocate for change at a local, state and federal level.
In recognition of the importance that advocacy and field-level cohesion play in influencing external systems, I recently left our cozy Venice offices and travelled to Sacramento to represent P.S. ARTS at Confluence 2015. Hosted by Californians for the Arts and held at the California State Capitol, Confluence is a statewide convening of arts organizations. It provides an opportunity for arts colleagues to learn from each other, hear about trends in the field, forge partnerships and advocate for the arts.

1. Data is good. Data + Passion is better.
Confluence opened with a Joint Committee on the Arts (chaired by Senator Ben Allen-District 26) hearing on the results of the 2014 Otis Report on the Creative Economy of California. The report’s message is that the arts play a vital role in California’s economy. Witnesses from the public, private and nonprofit sectors testified and spoke eloquently about the fact that without support for the arts and arts education, the talent pool in California will likely diminish. We were there to talk about the hard data and the economic benefits of the creative industries, but nearly every witness, from designers to engineers, spoke passionately about the ways they were profoundly affected by their own experiences in the arts. The Committee responded in kind, often sharing their own arts experiences.

2. Sure! But…
The Los Angeles delegation spent the afternoon making office visits to our legislators and advocating for a budget of $10 million for California’s state arts agency, the California Arts Council. While all legislators we visited were receptive to the request, we often heard that the arts cannot rely on state funding alone as it is a highly volatile source of support. We were encouraged to create private-nonprofit partnerships for revenue. Which reminds me, does anyone have a contact at Gatorade/Google/Nike?

3. Family/community trumps economy, every time.
Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group surveyed over 2,000 people across the U.S. and found that when it comes to building public will for the arts, people from all ethnicities, social-economic backgrounds, ages and geographic areas value the arts because they provide opportunities to connect with other people, thereby increasing quality of life — and not by just a little bit. Connection and community far outranked all other categories. WHAT!?! People over money! I’m proud of you, America.

4. Sustainability is not a goal! 
Okay, so that was a trick title. The whole sentence should be, “Sustainability is not a goal. It’s a state of mind, requiring constant reinvention and flexibility” according to Joel Slayton of ZERO1.  Sustainability has become the holy grail for nonprofits, with very little direction on how to actually get there. I think it’s really important for nonprofits and funders to hear that sustainability isn’t a magic wand that fixes all ills. We’re never going to get to stand on a rooftop and shout, “WE HAVE ACHIEVED SUSTAINABILITY. CHECK THAT OFF MY LIST!” Like marriage, ideal body weight, and Lady Gaga, sustainability requires maintenance and the ability to recognize when it’s time to change something.

5. Talk to people in the buffet line.
While I waited for my cheese and tapas, I struck up a conversation with a woman in front of me about how challenging it is for P.S. ARTS to recruit teachers in a particular tiny Central California town since our offices are located hundreds of miles away. As luck would have it, she ran a festival in that little town and knew practically every teaching artist in the area. I’ve initiated partnerships, made appointments with funders, solicited donations and recruited volunteers in buffet lines. They don’t tell you this management school, but the best networking happens while you’re holding an empty plate.

It was an eventful, illuminating, whirlwind of two days and a fantastic experience. Thank you to all the hard working people at the California Arts Council and Californians for the Arts for arranging a wonderful event. And a very special thank you to the many colleagues who co-prowled the halls of the Capitol Building, shared knowledge, dined and advocated with me. It’s a privilege to share a field with you!
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P.S. ARTSFive Lessons from Confluence 2015

Legislative Issues That Impact Arts Education

on November 5, 2013 Comments Off on Legislative Issues That Impact Arts Education

By Jennifer Leitch, Development Officer

Every other year on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, Americans cast their ballots and help shape the direction of our country. In honor of the hard-won privilege to vote, we have highlighted some current legislative issues that impact the arts in this country.

The California Arts Council (CAC), a state agency whose mission is to advance California through the arts and creativity, and who provides hundreds of grants to California-based arts organizations each year (including P.S. ARTS), faced a big hurdle at the start of the 2013-2014 fiscal year: an almost 7 percent budget reduction. This was especially dismal considering that nationally, California has consistently ranked at or near the bottom in per-capita funding for arts grants. However, thanks to the collective effort of Californians for the Arts and other arts advocates, in mid-July, Assembly Speaker John Perez made a discretionary allocation of an additional $2 million to the California Arts Council, doubling what the CAC was slated to receive. This additional funding, which comes from savings in the 2013 State Assembly operating budget and is the first increase in tax-payer supported funding for the CAC in ten years, is restricted for grants and services that directly support the arts in California communities. We are thrilled to be the recipient of a California Arts Council grant, and thank the Speaker for his dedication and commitment to the arts in California!

On a federal level, the situation isn’t as bright. In the wake of ongoing debates surrounding tax reform, there is concern that charitable giving incentives will be reduced or eliminated; a 100-year old tradition that has benefited millions of Americans and that has helped establish a history of charitable giving in the U.S. that is unrivaled. The provision in question, which allows taxpayers to deduct donations made to nonprofits, not only threatens the nonprofit sector, but also the communities they serve. Charitable giving is a significant, if not primary, source of revenue for nonprofit organizations (P.S. ARTS receives approximately 80% of its revenue from charitable donations), and while most giving is motivated by the cause it supports, history has shown that donors do respond to tax law changes by altering when and how much they give. Without this support, the level of programming and services offered to those in need would be dramatically reduced. Capping the charitable deductions would also result in the loss of nonprofit jobs – a consequence that could potentially have a lasting and harmful impact on the sector. Here are a few more facts about the charitable tax deduction and nonprofits:

  • For every $1 dollar in deductions claimed, charities receive $3 dollars in revenue.
  • There are approximately 1.4 million nonprofit 501(c)3 organizations in the U.S., including arts organizations, hospitals, private schools, institutions of higher education, religious congregations, public television and radio stations, soup kitchens, and foundations.
  • U.S. nonprofit organizations contribute $1.1 trillion in human services every year and support 13.5 million jobs.[1]

Charitable giving incentives are an investment in the public good and are essential to the health of the nonprofit sector. The budget committee is expected to report on issues surrounding tax reform and long-term spending decisions on December 13, 2013. You can help us preserve the charitable giving incentives by emailing your legislators (find your legislator here).

For more information about other legislation affecting the arts (including a proposed 49% cut to the NEA to be considered when the current Continuing Resolution expires in January), please visit the Americans for the Arts website.

[1] “Advocacy and Policy.” Americans for the Arts. Web. November 4, 2013.

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P.S. ARTSLegislative Issues That Impact Arts Education

Arts & The Mind: PBS

on July 22, 2013 Comments Off on Arts & The Mind: PBS

P.S. ARTS was featured in the PBS documentary Arts & The Mind, a two-part special that first aired in September 2012 that explored the vital role the arts play in human development.  This documentary showcased some of the country’s most successful art programs, including P.S. ARTS.  Hosted and narrated by P.S. ARTS Board Member Lisa Kudrow, Arts & The Mind makes the point that art is not a “luxury,” but central to the development of the human brain in youth and keeping our minds sharp as we get older.  P.S. ARTS is proud to have been included in this important film.

Watch Creativity on PBS. See more from Arts & The Mind.

Watch The Art of Connection on PBS. See more from Arts & The Mind.

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P.S. ARTSArts & The Mind: PBS


on July 23, 2013 Comments Off on #ArtsMatter

By Heather Myrick, Events Manager

Why are the arts important to you? I hope you can think of a few reasons. Maybe viewing the arts are a welcome moment to slow down from your fast-paced life, or perhaps expressing yourself through the arts helps you keep stress at bay. For me, being able to explore the symbolism in visual and performing arts has enabled me to be a more creative and independent thinker.

These ideas and the many more reasons we know arts education is so important makes P.S. ARTS proud and excited to share the collaborative efforts of our friends at LA Fund and the United Talent Agency Foundation as they bring you #ArtsMatter, a social media campaign to raise public awareness on the importance of arts education in schools. They have crafted this campaign to give people a voice in the future of arts education. They would like to see Twitter come to life with the many, many reasons people care about the arts.

Why do the arts matter to you? Tweet why here!

Ryan Seacrest, Shepard Fairey, Justin Bieber, Barbara Kruger and John Baldessariare will also be sharing their voices in support of arts education today. Shepard Fairey has even included the #ArtsMatter message into his latest work. Learn how the importance of arts education influenced one of his latest paintings. Reproductions of this particular painting will also appear on billboards throughout Los Angeles to further raise awareness on why arts education is important in public schools.

We have already tweeted our message! Be sure to have your voice heard as well!

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P.S. ARTS#ArtsMatter

P.S. ARTS Chosen to Attend White House “STEAM Fair” and Demonstrate Exemplary Art Project for First Lady Michelle Obama

on May 19, 2014 Comments Off on P.S. ARTS Chosen to Attend White House “STEAM Fair” and Demonstrate Exemplary Art Project for First Lady Michelle Obama

Venice, CA – P.S. ARTS and students from Lucille J. Smith Elementary School in Lawndale, CA, have been invited by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) to model examples of high-quality STEAM classroom projects – projects that integrate the “A” for arts into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curricula – at the White House on May 20th.  The White House “STEAM Fair” will be hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama and the PCAH to celebrate the success of the Turnaround Arts initiative, a PCAH program to help turn around low-performing schools and increase student achievement through arts education.  The Fair will showcase schools and arts organizations from across the country with model STEAM classroom projects.

As a partner to the Turnaround Arts initiative and one of the most highly regarded arts education service organizations in Southern California, P.S. ARTS was invited to the White House to demonstrate its approach to arts and math integration. Students in the Lawndale Elementary School District have received weekly P.S. ARTS classes for eight years due in large part to the generosity of the Herb Alpert Foundation.

“P.S. ARTS is honored to be invited to participate in this event,” said Dr. Kristen Paglia, P.S. ARTS Executive Director of Education & Programs.  “The bright, creative students from the Lawndale Elementary School District who will be demonstrating P.S. ARTS’ STEAM project are the best evidence of the role of the arts in student achievement and overall school improvement!”

Dr. Paglia will be attending the White House STEAM Fair along with P.S. ARTS Teaching Artist Benjamin Morales and Smith Elementary students Nicholas Hernandez (age 10) and Pamela Hernandez (age 11), whose flights were all generously donated by Delta Air Lines, the official airline of P.S ARTS. These students were selected to represent P.S. ARTS at the Fair because they thrive in their arts classes and exhibit poise, creativity, and civic leadership. They will demonstrate their creative skills to Fair attendees, including The First Lady, public officials, celebrities, and philanthropic partners of the Turnaround Arts initiative.

P.S. ARTS was asked to model the Orbit Tower Project developed by Morales for his 4th grade visual arts classes in the Lawndale Elementary School District.  This project explores the work of sculptor Anish Kapoor to reinforce the properties of shapes and lines and enhance design skills.  Through this project, students reflect on the purpose of public art and the significance of monuments, as well as the relationship between form and function in art and architecture.  Hernandez and Hernandez will demonstrate the creation of the structure from the design to the construction phase.

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P.S. ARTSP.S. ARTS Chosen to Attend White House “STEAM Fair” and Demonstrate Exemplary Art Project for First Lady Michelle Obama

Aspiring to Excellence in Arts Teaching and Learning: The P.S. ARTS Faculty Training Series

on September 19, 2014 Comments Off on Aspiring to Excellence in Arts Teaching and Learning: The P.S. ARTS Faculty Training Series

By Dr. Kristen Paglia, Executive Director of Education & Programs

I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.

~ John Steinbeck

As P.S. ARTS continues to expand our reach in California public schools, we become increasingly aware of the contribution our programs can make to overall school improvement. Teaching Artists are in the charmed position of engaging students in joyful creation. The arts provide the elusive opportunity for children to reflect on and share their experience and opinions with adults – not just within a parent/child or teacher/student hierarchy, but also as co-explorers and creators. Moreover, playing music, dancing, painting, and the like break up the school day and boost students’ energy. Even kids who love school and learning in the most traditional sense get overloaded by the sheer volume of information and the relentless challenge of assimilating new knowledge and skills. Finally, art exhibitions and performances draw parents and families to classrooms and may even lead to increased involvement in their children’s education.

This is powerful stuff, and we do not take the responsibility or privilege to improve children’s lives through arts education lightly at P.S. ARTS. At the beginning of every school year, the Programs Staff meets and poses the same question: What else can we do to improve the quality of P.S. ARTS programs? It seems straightforward, but when it comes to education, quality is moving target influenced by research trends, developing technology, and an increasingly sophisticated and diverse student population. “Student success in school and life” rests at the core of the P.S. ARTS’ education model, but success looks different over time and we have to respond to that. At our three-day faculty training intensive in August, P.S. ARTS Programs Staff challenged faculty to define excellence in their practice.

The training was framed by Harvard Project Zero research on quality arts education programs, which explores the “qualities of quality,” and concludes that the best programs “go beyond best practices to include consideration of the goals of arts education, such as aesthetic awareness and personal growth.”[1] P.S. ARTS programs address these outcomes, as well as the impact of a positive and creative school climate on students’ academic performance and wellbeing.

Each day of the three-day training focused on one element of a holistic, high-quality program:  Curriculum, Pedagogy, and Community/Environment. Teaching Artists spent time reviewing research and best practices in each of these domains, and shared their own practical applications, tips, concerns, challenges, and solutions that worked! Co-founder of Inside Out Community Arts (IOCA) and Master Artist Leader, Camille Ameen, and P.S. ARTS Associate Program Director of IOCA, Lui Sanchez, along with other IOCA veteran Artist Leaders led our newly merged faculty in the practice of Council, a facilitated story-telling approach that promotes community spirit. Alongside the theoretical and pragmatic conversations, P.S. ARTS Teaching Artists engaged in art-making, flexing their own creative muscles to make exemplar classroom displays that communicated our 2014-2015 programs theme, “Building Bridges – Breaking Barriers.”

It was three days of walking our talk and employing a range of arts and project-based strategies to fully immerse ourselves in learning so that we can begin the school year re-energized and fully prepared to teach!

[1] See Harvard Project Zero report, Qualities of Quality:  Understanding excellence in arts education:

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P.S. ARTSAspiring to Excellence in Arts Teaching and Learning: The P.S. ARTS Faculty Training Series

Intersections: Arts & Special Education

on August 21, 2014 Comments Off on Intersections: Arts & Special Education

By Stephanie Kistner, Senior Program Coordinator

For me, summer has always been a time to re-energize, reflect, and plan. Here at P.S. ARTS, it’s much the same. This summer the Programs Team has been busy reflecting on our accomplishments as an organization and planning our programs for the upcoming  year.

As part of the planning process, we annually research and review program models and best practices in the fields of arts and education. There are always exciting and innovative things happening in the arts and education worlds, and we’re eager to learn more about what’s happening in the field, in schools, and in classrooms.

Accessible and equitable arts programming are important values of P.S. ARTS, and with the addition of inclusive arts programs to our roster, utilizing best practices in special education and inclusion programs has been a priority.

Last month I had the opportunity to attend The Kennedy Center’s VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference in Alexandria, Virginia. VSA is a department of the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center that serves as an international organization that promotes arts accessibility for all. VSA also supports arts education opportunities for people with disabilities.

The VSA conference brought together program administrators, teaching artists, arts specialists, classroom teachers, special education teachers, and researchers from across the country to learn more about the arts and special education.

The theme of the conference was “intersections.” Intersections between arts and special education, intersections between classroom teachers and teaching artists, intersections between arts specialists and special education teachers, and intersections between practitioners and researchers. The conference brought together a professional network of individuals who all believe that the arts play an integral role in the education of ALL students.

I went to the conference with a mission: to find best practices and exemplar models that we could apply to our classrooms. What I quickly realized, and what I know very well working in education, is that there is not a one-size-fits-all model when it comes to classrooms, special education, and inclusion programs. To me, that is the exciting challenge of teaching, designing, and implementing lessons that fit a wide range of learning styles and that meet the needs of every student in the room.

Some approaches that I enjoyed learning more about and will continue to help P.S. ARTS Teaching Artists implement include:

  • UDL: Universal Design for Learning: UDL is a framework that helps educators design lessons for learners of varying abilities and learning goals. The framework can be applied to virtually any sort of educational setting and lends itself well to arts programming and inclusive, self-directed learning. UDL is central to P.S. ARTS programming and can be seen in all of our classrooms.
  • Social Emotional Learning: This approach is particularly helpful in inclusive classrooms that include students with Emotional Behavior Disorders (EBD) or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It can be difficult for these students to feel safe and comfortable enough to engage and participate in classroom activities. Social Emotional Learning through ensemble building in theater is one approach to reach and include all students as everyone learns together how to recognize, share, and control emotional responses.
  • Inclusion Based Arts Programs: One major take away from this approach was the community effort that it takes to manage and implement successful programs. Community is central to what P.S. ARTS does and this objective directly aligns with our programming. Built-in planning time, information sharing, goal setting, benchmarking plans, and clear methodology and approaches all contribute to student success in areas of increased communication and socialization skills, arts proficiency, and academic learning.

The conference opened with a quote by President John F. Kennedy that largely informs VSA’s work, and which closely resonates with the work of P.S. ARTS:

“I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but…for our contribution to the human spirit.” – President John F. Kennedy

Everything I learned at the VSA conference reinforced our values as an organization, primarily that providing universal access to an education that includes the arts is a matter of social justice, equity, and responsible public policy. I’m constantly inspired by the work that P.S. ARTS does and the change that it seeks to make in the world – in education, in classrooms, and in each and every student that we serve.

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P.S. ARTSIntersections: Arts & Special Education