Every Tuesday morning inside Jessica Fletcher’s fifth-grade classroom at Cesar Chavez Elementary School, her 27 students have full creative license to let their imaginations run wild. Some will cut dragons from construction paper, others will go to outer space aboard paint brushes. And many will unleash inner talents they didn’t know existed.
All agree, though, that ArtReach, a partnership between the Bakersfield Museum of Art and the Bakersfield City School District, is their favorite 45 minutes of the school week. Educators see this new “artnership” as a model for the future at a time when arts education in California schools has become an endangered species.
“Before this, the students were only taught what teachers were able to integrate into their curriculum,” Fletcher said. “The kids really enjoy it.”
Three years ago, thanks to the state’s local control funding formula, moneys made their way to local school districts.
“This was our window to start infusing art education again,” said BCSD Visual & Performing Arts Program Coordinator Michael Stone.
The following year, BMoA launched ArtReach at some of the city’s schools. The success was resounding. This year, the program was implemented districtwide for every fifth-grader.
“We travel to 31 schools in the district throughout the fall and spring semesters, seeing about 120 classrooms and reaching approximately 3,500 students,” said BMoA Education Coordinator Andrew Hawley.
The instructors – or “arts partners” – provide lessons alongside the credentialed multisubject teacher that include a short lecture on a notable artist and medium along with a hands-on art project. Students learn key elements of art and principles of design, as well as the museum’s growing permanent collection and exhibitions.
“The real gift is the children have role models – professional artists side by side with their teachers making for a real connection and they are able to develop a real rapport,” Stone added.
Angie Horton has been an ArtReach instructor since the beginning of the school year.
“It is wonderful to see some of the students’ reactions and knowing it is the highlight of their week,” Horton said. “The goal is to get to every school that doesn’t have an art program.”
At the beginning of a recent lesson, student Franklyn Cardoza expressed frustration as he began to draw.
“I didn’t think I could do it,” Franklyn said.
But he was able to work through it with the help of Horton.
“It was a learning moment for us. We were able to talk about growth mindset,” Fletcher recalled.
Franklyn delighted in his accomplishment and the fun he experienced, flashing a grin as wide as his artwork.
The students’ works since the beginning of the semester are displayed on the classroom walls and cabinets, including a collage by Lina Jobah, an ESL student. Inside a tiny heart of construction paper, she had written the words “I love art.”
“When I hear that there will be art class, I get so happy,” Lina said, her face lit up with a smile.
In the universal language of art, it is something she can relate to, and it speaks volumes.
Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lisa Kimble.