Arts program alive, well in WSVSD

Students learn how to tell stories as part of the White Salmon Valley School District’s art program. Artists-in-residence visit classes K-8 to teach kids a variety of different expressions, from clay art, mosaics, glass boxes, and nature art, to mural painting.

White Salmon Valley School District is keeping art alive for all of its students, from Kindergarten to high school.

“White Salmon Schools have had the arts, forever,” explained Leigh Hancock, a grant writer for the White Salmon Valley Education Foundation. Over the past eight years the school district has grown its Arts program in to a thriving platform for students to experiment with such media as clay, paint, glass, and tile.

Over 950 students in the White Salmon Valley School District participate in art, as well as music, as part of a regular course of study; approximately 75% of the student body.

The district is still utilizing a 10 year grant from the Washington State Arts Commission, which has helped bolster art programs within the schools for the past eight years. From 2008 to 2016 the district’s Arts Program has received $354,000 in arts funding from K-8 PTO, Band Boosters, the White Salmon Valley Education Foundation (WSVEF), and from WSVEF Grant Writing.

Hancock explained going after the Washington State Arts Commission (WSAC) Grant would provide a host of opportunities for the arts program, which it has done successfully for the past eight years.

“One year, we spent a whole year working on developing the curriculum that started at elementary school and went all the way through the high school,” Hancock said. Creating a curriculum spanning from elementary grade levels to high school meant teachers could better prepare students who wanted to pursue art, especially music.

“This was really cool because it was the first time that all the teachers were talking, and getting in one place, and planning together,” explained Hancock. “Before that we really had three different art programs.”

In the past, maybe a handful of students would participate in music programs from middle school to high school, now it’s about 60 kids, said Hancock. “The bands are getting so big, that at the high school we now have two jazz bands because they got too big to have just one,” noted Hancock.

“We’re seeing really exciting stuff happen [in the art program] and we have a really strong staff in music, especially the middle and high school,” said Hancock. “They’ve gotten so much enthusiasm from kids, and so many want to be in band now, so it’s been a very, very successful program.”

The same success, although to a lesser extent, has been seen in the visual arts portion of the program, Hancock noted. Art is a little less constant than the music program, Hancock explained, since art is offered as an elective once a student gets to sixth grade and beyond.

“These grants we’ve gotten from the Arts Commission have helped [us] work with all the elementary school teachers,” Hancock explained, “so that all of them do art now and they do art that supports other core curriculum things. So, maybe they do art to support science, or art to support Language Arts.”

Before the school district received the grant from WSAC, Whitson Elementary didn’t have an art teacher. Now, Whitson has Stephenie Going an enrichment teacher who works with students to create art projects.

“If you go in Whitson Elementary especially, it’s just wild with art, it’s just amazing,” said Hancock. “It’s very cool now, because any kid who wants to, really does have access to one or more arts every year of their education.”

Access to art in school is important to Hancock and the WSVEF for a plethora of reasons, one Hancock highlighted was the amount of testing students are subject to.

“Now that there’s so much testing going on, like Common Core, No Child Left Behind, all these things; kids are really being taught that there’s only one right answer,” said Hancock, “but the fact is, that’s not really true in life and the arts really show that. They show that there’s not just one way to do something, that there are lots of right answers.”

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