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Art Integration

Our school, East Oakland School of the Arts is highly recognized because of its unique arts integration. I’ve been in education for 30 years, 25 years teaching Art Education K-12 in urban settings, (five summers were spent working additional time with the city of Boston, ParkArts program- Very Special Art Massachusetts.) College summers were spent as art director and counselor at a summer camps. I started out teaching in preschool; I understood the importance of the arts and cognitive development. Then I moved into teaching K-12. East Oakland School of the Arts is one of the small 9–12 schools in a larger school called Castlemont Community of Small Schools- (2,000 teens divided into three schools on one campus).

I’ve been there 3 years as the visual arts teacher- teaching 6 classes per day with the average of 25-32 students daily.

I’ve taught visual arts my whole career and I feel like a lone ranger. When phase-outs happen, they always phase out the arts first. This is discouraging over a 25 year career in arts education- always in flux.

I just really believe the arts teacher has to be part of a building. As the resident art teacher, it’s so important to be part of the community of the teachers there. It is equally important to have guest artists come in to compliment the existing program.

One school had 3 music teachers — the students were so enriched with knowledge and good with the task of making music. Art helps students with behavior problems; as a resident teacher, I saw every student from K to 5th grade. For example, if there is a child who experiences the parent’s getting a divorce, the resident arts teacher there is a consistent presence for him/her. At times a student could have an explosive attitude — the arts can temper that. They can sit in the art room and think about their feelings; if they can’t put it in words, they can put it in pictures.

I have the students enter a lot of contests: they provide a strong focus for the group and there’s a consensus to work on these. You can attribute all artistic design activities in a contest — balance, form, line, color, plus bring in an artist to inspire them further. The students do lots of graphics —kids today see more graphics, know logos, etc. They are visually more verse at imagery than earlier in my career.

Doing contests drives my curriculum:

1) You have to get your school out there to let them know you exist, especially as one of the new small schools. There’s no money for the arts and we need businesses and foundations to recognize this. I ask the kids, “Would you like be in our new gallery?” The arts teacher needs to be one of a forward-planner of people. We had an exhibit in Jan/Feb 2006— so we had curators back in October of 2005— this in a brand new school that was 6 weeks old. “I whipped the kids into shape” and when the school officially opened in the new facility, Project Excellence was the first exhibit representing the arts.

Contests help learning about the community, about the violence rate, the gang rate. This is a high school population; it’s amazing how fast they’re techno-savvy. It’s been a rapid vertical climb for me, myself.

2) They contribute to students’ sense of self-worth. Simply competing and trying, whether they win or not, is not important. By simply participating there’s a sense of personal accomplishment. They gain recognition for genuine accomplishment.

Sometimes with contests there’s a very selective jury, sometimes it’s a blanket submission. Sometimes we just put the artwork up in the classroom. I use their language, e.g., TYGHT [someone who exemplifies an anti radical thinker] — and they eat it up!! It’s not corny at all. Even if it’s just around the classroom they loved it.

I also exhibit the work in the hallways in school — the kids get higher esteem for work seen by visitors.

It’s all about arts for art’s sake and having a resident arts teacher makes the difference in a building. Years back, Strong Schools, Strong Arts- was an article in NAEA-true-yes!

The school had 295 students at the end of the year but there’s a declining enrollment. The largest enrollment was 9th graders. There’s a high transition level in the city. Plus there are elective schools in Oakland. There was high turnover this year.

The 9th grade was large — so we did exploratory art. The class was divided into fours — each of the arts had a fourth of the class and we moved them around throughout the academic year. Each student was exposed to each discipline (art, band, drama, dance,) Some kids didn’t like visual arts — preferred piano. The dance program was predominantly girls. Our vocalists were predominantly African-American girls. The African-American boys went into digital sound/band. That left predominantly boys in my class, especially Latin boys and a few Latin girls and a few African-American boys and girls.

My challenge as an educator was how to challenge Latin boys with their whole culture and subculture. I found out a lot of the boys loved cars. We have a car museum right outside city limits — The Blackhawk Automotive Museum. It’s gorgeous. The Museum graciously paid for our transportation for the day and for admission to the museum.

We did a Wheels Project: I had them do storyboards on wheels and fenders. This made the students very acute in their observational drawing. “Whatever!” It’s a way to reach them…

Some of the students were good in math — I’d say you could be an engineer. No, I just want to be a mechanic. They don’t understand how math could be combined with the drawing.

I brought in guest speakers – in regular academic class, you don’t have time to pull that in. Being the regular arts teacher in the building you can bring these resources for the students. The regular classroom teachers have students who are all tested with standardized tests, so those teachers are benchmarked every month. For me, the math and drawing can dovetail and really make a difference for the students. I can bring in speakers, college reps who talk about careers. Whether they go into art or not, I expose them to possibilities in different careers.

Style in which I teach: direct instruction, so there’s a knowledge base from the teacher, and then small groups where kids talk informally so they’re comfortable about what they learn. Then I go up to them one by one and elicit their conversations in their genre.

A lot of our students have not been heard. Neighbor kids still come by after they graduate — they just want to be heard. They want someone to listen to them. I really think our generation right now is missing that, our students have something to say. And that intimacy of sitting there with students —and to let them know that what they’re saying and thinking is okay. If they get a little off topic — if they go outside to the coding of swearing, the teacher can stop it right away, before it becomes explosive: “I’m old enough to be your grandmother,” or “I’m the adult in the room, and I find that offensive.”

Once students like you, learning is so much easier. So if they build up a whole wall for a semester because they don’t like you — that’s a wasted semester! You have to break that wall down somewhere. Listening seems like a good beginning.

My classroom is huge; it’s the size of three typical classrooms, so there’s a lot of space and a lot of walking.

This year the kids seemed more pensive. However, kids are amazingly resilience — there were a lot of gang deaths this year and the school had to contend with that. That’s another reason to have a resident arts teacher. If it were simply a guest artist- they would not understand the climate of the school. Those students had to walk through the door again and you had to greet them and give them their space, and maybe an academic classroom teacher had to work them just as hard as usual (for the tests), but sometimes in art they could take some down time and just draw quietly, and make up their other work at home. I can add that flexibility to my program and still meet the standards and criteria because some of that stuff can be taken home. Sometimes they just need to sit with their peers and express their grief.

Half of our population is Latino — so we do the Day of the Dead, which is also a celebration of the living of their lives. This year we did a celebration of their lives — which satisfied all our cultures. We did an outdoor planting that integrated many arts, which was the idea of the principal and an outside consultant. It was a school-wide, thematic approach to the Day of the Dead that included everyone: The dancers did a small production; the art students had a wall of artwork (large boards, murals). It was very successful, and we should do more of this sort of thing to bring teens together.

Go with the desires of the principal and follow the money.

Our edict from the county, from the Ford Foundation was five year longitudinal study. Anchor Schools, started with 12. First 12 principals who said yes, they were elected to have more money. Follow the money . . .

I was at one of the elementary schools in our county when Ford Foundation money came through for a five-year longitudinal study. The school got $2000. I had 425 students a week with each student having 50 minutes of art. So I bought 8 videos, and they drove my curriculum for 2 years for grades K thru 5. The videos, were targeted to 8th grade curriculum but I purchased them anyway and made modifications- expect more- They were mostly European classics, Faith Ringgold, Tar Beach based on her paintings. I also got magazine subscriptions for the teachers so they became more knowledgeable. You have to educate the teachers. The arts teacher becomes an advocate to the teachers.

In high school, I didn’t teach the way the other teachers did — I had the kids do conceptual thinking. E.g., I gave the kids an empty white cigar box, a crafts box, told them to create their outer personality on the outside and inner personality on the inside, with any medium, anything they wanted. These kids knew how to think — so each box was a work of art. Kids knew how to get logos, or information from computers. They infused infomation from computers with their own style — so for them a conceptual piece was a problem to solve.

In October Katrina hit — artists think about real things, and so when a memo came asking us to address the tragedy of the victims, we thought about it and came up with the idea of pulling images from the computer, flowers for homage, observational drawing, torn paper and chalk to accentuate the water. The kids liked doing this.

The administrator didn’t get it. That was really hard.

A different administrator saw my work and told the administrator, “You’re so lucky to have her.” So they kept moving kids in my direction I had more art students than the other three disciplines on campus. Working in collaboration is important. The school had an artist working on a sculpted fence project and I wanted to send students outside to work with her, four students at a time. The Principal said, “That’s her work, she won’t want that. Sure enough, however, the artist loved it, the students loved it. The artist got more of the work up than she intended. The Principal was amazed.

The first year I had a bunch of seniors who had to complete the arts requirement for graduation but had had no art and drew like a third grader. Some were talented but most weren’t. The Principal would come by and see primary activities, so he was completely unimpressed — but developmentally you have to take people from where they are and move them up. Unfortunately, he didn’t come periodically and evaluate their progress — he had too much to do opening a new building.

Block scheduling is key at the high school level, even for the inexperienced artist. Once they get the materials out, as a studio-based class, they have to put them away almost immediately. Especially in a school that’s serious about education — they have to get back to class on time, not go out and wander or have a cigarette. There’s no excuse. But in art class, you want to take one more stroke of the pen, you need adequate clean up time. Fifty minutes is tight, tight, esp. when meeting once a week.

Our school is such a great role model for other schools — we do arts integration in every class to some degree without taking away from academics. I had 6 teaching periods and 1 common planning period for conferences, for my own planning, and for contacting parents or kids. The school became known for this scheduling. In actuality, we, arts teacher had 6 teacher periods per day and all the academic teachers had 5 with a common planning period. This bothered me as it was not equitable professionally as the arts teachers were delivering information an additional 4 hours per week– Art 1, Art 2, Advanced Art (broken up) —was simply in theory as we are such a small school. There was so much more to do so I moved my energies onto other things.

The arts teacher works with various materials; whereas dance teacher only need a room, where students just come out in their leotards. So it’s hard when the administrator says, “No materials.” Not at this school but a previous school when I was not issued material I just used copy paper — because that was available to all teachers. I just had the kids draw, draw, and draw. I had them paint with tempera on newspaper. I will still teach even without materials!!

It’s like a scrap yard- use whatever you can get. Artists who blow in — they come in with a fresh look. I always appreciate student teachers coming in — they learn from me but they also have new crisp ways of doing things — it’s good, you have another pair of eyes in the classroom.

I taken the curriculum from high school and have adapated it down to elementary and vice versa — those concepts can be generated through the developmental needs of those students.

For example, I had a student teacher present a lesson with observational drawings of sea shells on paper and later copy their favorite images on transparencies —and arrange them. They used “Sharpies” directly on the transparencies —they put texture behind drawings of shells. I suggested to the student teacher “Why don’t you grab some sandpaper and juxtapose the transparencies with sandpaper” — that way the kids were able to feel the texture of the sandpaper — art is very experiential for the kids.

Many inner-city kids can’t get out of the city — you sometimes have to bring it to them. Greatest retention of memory is from experience. That’s another reason to have an arts program within a school.

Field trips are important — going to outlying areas — I’m the only one who takes kids on trips (!). You can get a bus for free and bring the students to the gallery and admission is free also — some galleries let students in free. I took the students to a gallery that paid for the bus, paid for our entrance fee to an exhibit called the “Metamorphosis of Graphite” — they gave the students half an hour of pencil instruction on how to explore pencil drawing, all for free. I read about it in an airplane magazine.

The more kids have experience, the more it builds some kind of foundation in thinking. If they’re not exposed to anything, they never know.

Kids realize that the phrase “white is right” is not necessarily true. I’m white and I have a choice. I live as their neighbor with them. “What’s with that?” The students always question, “You live here?” Being a role model for that in the school per se is important. I’m educated, I have money — They think: we don’t get it. You have the ability to choose — I give those messages, guttural messages, life lessons. We are teaching children civility — civility is not there in the neighborhood, because gangs are taking over and intimidate. “But when you live among the population you teach/serve, that kind of in-your-face experience — you’re teaching civility.” So when kids leave the school — if in learning trigonometry, you learn the process, and the ability to complete something, to pass with recognition and fulfill the requirement that’s necessary for college or whatever you choose in life, if you learn those things in trigonometry and apply it in life; it’s great. In art, if students learn aesthetics, mutual respect, appreciation for others’ culture — (there are some 87 cultures in Oakland) — and if the kids become more sensitive to those cultures and all those in the classroom, then I know I’ve succeeded.

In a studio class – everyone is moving. Some respect the brushes, some don’t. That whole culture within the culture is what the teacher is facilitating. Affective Learning. Those are fundamentally important, and you get that in the art room because it’s a studio class where kids have the ability to get up and move. The ADA kid who’s chomping to move — even if it’s to get a brush. And understanding that that is one of your children in the classroom — as the person who knows the population, you, the art teacher, are there to service that child a little bit better.

Everyone has to realize that art has a greater impact in their lives than they realize. Latin population — the Latin population is the strongest culture I serve. They have a strong sense of their homeland — a lot go back and forth to Mexico and bring that culture to the classroom. They bring the Mexican mural and the souped-up car — in honoring them in the murals and all that — it’s easy because art is embedded in a lot of the children and in the family structure. The Black kids – it’s the same kind of thing but it comes in with the music — the hip-hop, the rap. That’s okay.

I strongly believe the media is a stronger force than Susan Walton. I wish I could say that the fundamentals that I put out there in the course of a day make a difference to the students. But I look along with them at the media and try to dovetail art class with media. At one point it seemed like every day there was another hurricane, fire, flooding — another tragedy. If you want to stop this tragedy, what would you do — in social action, as a social activist — we need to be that as artists. So in that sense, I, Susan Walton, did it. I do social action in relation to art — I have the students make a sign, a poster, take some action for themselves, for their community, to empower them in an aesthetic way. They must have some have some sensibility about it.

I would like to give kids a sense of entrepreneurial spirit and engagement in their work. I noticed at the end of the year they were thirsty for work — people of color, in particular teens; there are very few jobs for them. It’s because their skin is a different color? And I didn’t understand that fully until I heard them speak and would talk to them. We would go places and see that it was the Caucasians and Asians who had the jobs.

My greatest hope is to give youth the choice of making money through art v drugs. If I could help them see that as a vehicle, that would be a step in fighting the war on drugs. I would say — you can make T-shirts. I wrote a grant: “Create Your Destiny” — to get money for airbrushing: for murals, graffiti — but also for clothing – Hip-hop — airbrushed clothing very popular with the teens.

Gang warfare and drugs — that’s where it’s all moving towards. It comes from poverty. When you drive in the streets, (our streets of the flatlands) you understand there are poor, poor, poor people. And if an entrepreneurial Mexican vendor is selling corn, he knows how to make money. That pushcart guy or the ice cream vendor — now, if we can get the students to do something similar — create a commodity for their community, that can put money in their pocket. If the city officials can create certain hours for a teen a peddler’s license. This would be great! Once they have sense of upward mobility, that they will be empowered.

I met with the school psychologist who deals with our youth. They think about flashy cars, we discussed; but they need a house first. They need to learn to save and manage the money they earn. They need to know how to use money if they learn to be entrepreneurs.

I set up an exhibit of kids dressed up: the other kids were in party clothes, ours were in grunge, hoodies. I took pictures. I was fun. I want to give them more of those experiences.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee sought out the school (Castlemont was so big and always ignored because it was in the most impoverished area.) Lee had her team of aides and caseworkers all go to her district schools and invited them to the Artistic Discovery event. Caseworkers came — I sent one of my best artists and also an incredible football star to escort the caseworker through the school, he gave her his whole history — so we made an incredible contact.

Student art is juried. The selected student gets to attend an awards dinner, for all Congressmen/ Congresswomen staff and parents in Washington, D.C. and they have artworks hanging there in the tunnel of the mall for a year and then go back to the students. Even though our students did not win, they participated and understood more of social action through the arts. Barbara Lee loves our school because there are students of color who are not getting recognized. She wants action in this area.

The next caseworker called to invite me to help organize the next exhibition as it was going to be at the Chiodo Studios in West Oakland which will be the largest outdoor sculpture this side of the Mississippi (Fall-opening 2010) So we have an immediate political voice through Barbara Lee. If I had to get help, in a crisis, she’s that close and very connected to support the arts.

For AIDS, there was an education campaign, and local business leaders and foundations set up— inaugural contests and scholarships. I jumped on it. So the kids learn about AIDS, the contests increased the amount of scholarship money, the campaign increased the educational component with science. We did an experiential thing — used test tubes so students could see the exchange of fluids and what that does to you. These are tough- tough city kids. I said, “Get a test tube and come up here.” They all jumped up and did it — this is AIDS — it was a visual — and they shook up all the test tubes. The fluids got cloudier. “That’s what happens if you don’t use protection.” That’s why you have to do this contest and get the word out and help solve this disease.

Another resource for the building to have an arts teacher implement this information. The principal might not have his job next year. This district is state-managed, everything is up in the air. There’s a new superintendent, the fiscal manager still under the state.

Administrations tend to come and go – teachers tend to stay constant. Kids need that consistency and continuity. They don’t have that at home.

There’s a high turnover in staff, that’s detrimental to a school and for high-school. The staff is about 20, maybe 8 will return. That’s tough for a school.

Start with schools that want arts education — start with those with a stable staff. Would get results more quickly. Some starts-up schools are so enthusiastic. Our principal has systemic problems from the community he has no control over — gangs, 20 liquor stores within a 3-block radius. Drug use. Impoverished area. Kids have to walk through unsafe areas to get to school. A lot of kids get dropped off.

Backward planning is really effective. Look at the whole year and plan backwards for what you want kids to achieve by end of year (e.g., submitting a portfolio). I do that and did summer workshop on that, had various learning tools to get kids to talk abt art.

Because my classroom is so physically big it needs to be team taught or done in double periods (like at the CAPE program). Like a college studio class — not an exploratory freshman thing but could do advanced students having a double class and then observational drawing, a 2D double period and 3D double period — lecture, product, evaluation in that time.