Centinela Valley Union High School District, Hawthorne School District, and Lawndale Elementary School District envisioned the first regional arts coordinator position in 2014. As an arts educator, I was very excited about the opportunity to look at instruction from kindergarten through grade 12 and to play a role in arts integration for an entire region. Following my first meeting with representatives from the three partnering districts, I contacted the principals of the 24 schools I’d be working with to begin conducting needs assessments and program evaluations. More than fifty percent of the principals responded the same day! Within a month I had visited all the schools, and specific needs for each of the three partnering districts became clear.
To be better prepared for the students who entered their classes, Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) teachers in Centinela Valley Union High School District wanted to know more about their students’ background in the arts. Meanwhile, the elementary and middle school teachers in Hawthorne and Lawndale Elementary School Districts wanted to know how they should prepare their students for VAPA in high school. I facilitated an articulation meeting for teachers to discuss and connect their curricula and teaching practices. A very creative team of teachers came together and a lot more than curriculum mapping came out of the meeting. The teachers proposed creating a regional band, collaborating on art exhibitions, inviting middle school students to attend high school performances, and developing a master list of regional VAPA teachers to stay informed of work happening across the three districts.
Two other needs also emerged: professional development in the arts for teachers of all subjects and parent support. We gathered representatives from the three districts and agreed on an action plan that we began implementing this year, and have already seen great results.
Following one of our professional development workshops at Otis College of Art and Design, a high school math teacher was inspired to create “Geometry Meets Fashion,” a project that used the principles of geometry to guide students through the design and construction of garments made from recycled materials. The students’ work was outstanding. I showed the collection to the Curator of Gallery H and Phantom Galleries L.A. and she decided to present the fashion show, twice! Both shows were sold out and the students will soon receive a certificate of achievement from the City of Hawthorne.
Teachers of all subjects across the three districts have also begun taking part in a new type of professional development called Arts Encounters. This program connects teachers with professional artists to experience their environment, learn about their work, and create art along with them. The first Arts Encounters featured Angelica Sotiriou, painter, sculptor, and art educator, in her studio in San Pedro. Teachers described their visit as inspiring, fun and enlightening.
To improve parent engagement, a group of parent volunteers from the three districts was formed to support arts events, and so far they are doing a fantastic job.
Three high schools will open their doors on Saturdays to offer visual and performing arts classes to students’ parents and siblings, so that they too can experience the wonders of arts education firsthand. The idea of a regional arts coordinator was creative, bold, practical and a reflection of the remarkable administrators, dedicated teachers, and caring parents whose vision it was to make the arts a core subject for all students. In the last nine months we have watched the arts not only enhance education, but also bring joy to all in the process. It is a privilege to be part of such an endeavor.