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Gresham-Barlow embraces arts education

-  All district elementary schools now offer The Right Brain Initiative


by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: LISA K. ANDERSON - Nicole Penoncello, visiting artist with The Right Brain Initiative, works with second-graders at East Orient Elementary School on their jungle animal drawings.

On a Tuesday morning, second-graders at East Orient Elementary School take a journey through the rain forest.

“What do we wonder about these jaguars?” visiting artist Nicole Penoncello asks while students compare and contrast two paintings.

Afterward, students prepare to draw their own jungle animals, which eventually will come together as a mural.

Penoncello notes that the pastels students are about to use are great for texture. She tells students they will use paint to fill in the rest of their drawings.

Kyler Cox sketches out a jaguar, while Hailey De Leon perfects her tree boa.

“We’re learning but having fun, too,” Hailey says. “I really like using the pastels.”

This is one of four art sessions students will share with Penoncello through The Right Brain Initiative. Penoncello’s lesson pairs perfectly with classroom teacher Lori Lustig’s unit on natural habitats.

“For so many kids, (the arts) are how they learn and show who they are,” says Emily Jensen, a parent volunteer. “This lets them be creative and do things in their own way.”

In light of budget cuts to the arts, The Right Brain Initiative is a partnership of schools, local government, private donors and the cultural community, making arts education accessible to K-8 students in the Portland area.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: LISA K. ANDERSON - Kyler Cox says he loves art and has enjoyed learning how to draw jaguars in his class jungle unit.

This year, the Gresham-Barlow School District is the first in the region to bring The Right Brain Initiative to all of its elementary schools.

“The skills of reading, writing and speaking are brought to life for students when explored and experienced through the arts,” says Superintendent Jim Schlacter. “When students are engaged, it leads to higher levels of learning.”

Members of the public are invited to a Right Brain Initiative community information meeting and student art opening from 5-6 p.m. Monday, April 14, at the Gresham Public Library.

Launched in January 2009 through the Regional Arts & Culture Council, The Right Brain Initiative has grown from serving 20 schools in the region to 49 in the past five years.

School district partners pay $15 per child for the program, covering artist fees and materials. Classroom teachers and other school staff members go through professional training with the goal of implementing arts education throughout the year.

“This is changing the way schools interact with arts,” says Rebecca Burrell, outreach specialist for The Right Brain Initiative. “Teachers are really learning to incorporate arts on a daily basis by working with the artists and building knowledge within each building.”

Burrell says a goal of the program is to build arts education into the system so it’s not so subjected to budget cuts. She describes The Right Brain Initiative as a catalyst for the arts and says the program has a philosophy that responsibility for arts education shouldn’t be up to just the school districts — it should be up to businesses, local government, private foundations and community organizations as well.

Penoncello’s goal as an artist and educator through The Right Brain Initiative is for art to foster self-reflection, critical thinking and problem solving within students.

“When a teaching artist and classroom teacher are able to collaborate and plan a residency that fully connects the arts to what students are learning in the classroom, student learning goes far beyond memorizing and reciting concepts,” she says.

Principal Jennifer Paulsen says East Orient has had a phenomenal experience with The Right Brain Initiative.

“Teachers love that it brings another layer to what they’re teaching — that it allows kids who learn through the creative model to be successful,” she says.

Students finish their trek through the jungle for the day, leaving art class with a sparkle in their eyes. The teachers look equally satisfied.

“It is certainly a breather for the spirit — children and adults develop skills through art experiences that will help them throughout their lives,” says Lustig, who calls Ms. Frizzle of “The Magic School Bus” her hero.

She says The Right Brain Initiative not only enriches right brain function for students.

“When students spend time in right brain activities, they’re often able to do linear, analytical activities with a greater understanding of those skills,” Lustig says.

“School is about teaching to students’ hearts as well as their minds. If you’re able to do both of those things, I think there’s a much bigger impact on what children are able to do, especially in the long run.”

To learn more, visit http://therightbraininitiative.org/.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: LISA K. ANDERSON - Hailey De Leon, right, draws a tree boa. She says she loved learning how to use pastels.

IF YOU GO

Members of the public are invited to a Right Brain Initiative community information meeting and student art opening from 5-6 p.m. Monday, April 14, at the Gresham Public Library.

Superintendent Jim Schlachter, other Gresham area leaders, Right Brain staff and students will speak about the impact of the arts education program. The Gresham Public Library is at 385 N.W. Miller Ave.



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