The Right Brain Initiative


Digging Deeper: What Teachers Really Think about Right Brain

February 24th, 2015 by Sarah Hwang
Briana Linden leading training on observational drawing at Right Brain Professional Development "Arts Integration--Digging Deeper" at Mcmenamins Kennedy School.

Briana Linden leading training on observational drawing at Right Brain Professional Development “Arts Integration—Digging Deeper” at McMenamins Kennedy School.

Have you ever wondered what teachers are like outside of the classroom? When I think back to my elementary school teachers, I revert back to my elementary student self and view teachers as authority figures who hold the fate of my future with a single letter grade. Earlier this month, I was able to attend the Right Brain Initiative’s 2nd workshop in their Professional Development series called “Arts Integration–Digging Deeper,” where I learned that I had the completely wrong impression about teachers.

Teachers and teaching artists came together to learn more ways to integrate the arts in everyday classroom learning and refresh ones they learned from the first workshop. We delved into the world of theater, using pantomime as a tool to teach students about improvisation and teamwork, and we practiced different types of drawing as a way to teach students to be resourceful and careful observers. It was great to experience some of the activities that students experience during their Right Brain residencies and witness the many “aha” moments as teachers were exposed to the benefits of arts education firsthand.

Arts integration is not necessarily a new concept to me. Having studied art history in school, I was already well-versed in how the arts provide new avenues in innovation and thinking. In fact, the most memorable part of the workshop for me was the personal stories teachers exchanged with each other about their experiences with Right Brain.

One teacher I was sitting with spoke about her school’s residency with Nicole Penoncello, who used printmaking as a way to teach elementary students about the water cycle. She was impressed by not necessarily the artwork created by students, but rather how their learning had such a lasting effect. Throughout the year, she would ask questions about water to refresh the students’ memories, and she said that they would answer correctly with such confidence and even volunteer more details about the cycle itself.

As these teachers told their stories and asked their questions, I began to feel a great sense of camaraderie at the table. Everyone, both old and new to Right Brain, were eagerly listening to these stories to learn more about their perspectives on Right Brain. We had open discussions about classroom techniques and teaching philosophies. We would even joke and talk amongst each other during the training, like children do with their friends in class. It felt more like a meeting of friends than a professional development training. They really listened to each other’s stories and digested them, providing them with intimate insights into The Right Brain Initiative, while getting the formal training from Right Brain’s Professional Development team.

It was so encouraging to witness such openness and eagerness to learn about Right Brain. The professional development series brought teachers together to create a safe space and network where they can ask questions and try out new ideas, but it also brought together like-minded individuals who are passionate about educating children and more simply, like to have fun. It’s nice to know that teachers, like all of us, are forever students, learning constantly about our ever-changing world.


Sarah Hwang is the Winter/Spring 2015 Outreach Apprentice for The Right Brain Initiative. She is excited to begin the new year working for Right Brain!

Another Successful Year for Right Brain & WW Give!Guide

January 13th, 2015 by Sarah Hwang


2014 ended with a bang for Right Brain and other nonprofits featured in the Give!Guide. The 2014 Willamette Week Give!Guide reported that 10,276 people donated a total amount of $3,140,015 to various nonprofits throughout the Portland community. This is a major increase from the previous year’s Give!Guide results of over $2.4 million.

The Right Brain Initiative is happy to report significant increases as well! This year, we reached our goal of $17K in donations from 272 donors: 

  • More than half of those donors are return donors from 2013, a 10% increase from 2013.
  • Almost half of donors were under the age of 36–that’s 130 people! Because of this, we also won the $1000 bonus from Give!Guide.  
  • AND 126 of our supporters made their first contribution to Right Brain in 2014.

So I guess what we’re trying to say is…THANK YOU.

Thank you for all of your support and dedication to The Right Brain Initiative. Thank you for helping us provide arts education to K-8 students in the Portland area, and thank you for believing in the crucial role that the arts play in the lives and educations of youths everywhere. None of this would be possible without you!

Here’s to another successful year!

Want to support our work, but missed the Give!Guide? Become a part of our Brain Trust individual giving program!

Sarah Hwang is the Winter/Spring 2015 Outreach Apprentice for The Right Brain Initiative. She is excited to begin the new year working for Right Brain!

GIVE!GUIDE UPDATE! Donate to Right Brain AND Young Audiences to win incredible prizes.

December 17th, 2014 by Rebecca



Young Audiences Logo

Didn’t you know? Young Audiences + Right Brain = A whole lotta poutine.

As we round the bend on our final weeks of the 2014 Willamette Week Give!Guide, we still have a lot to do to reach our goal of recruiting 300 donors. So, we’re excited to announce a new donor challenge, designed with our favorite partners-in-crime—Young Audiences of Oregon & SW Washington (YA), who is also included in the Guide this year. YA has served as Right Brain’s Implementation Partner since our inception. The Right Brain staff at YA oversee the day-to-day mechanics of our program—managing our teaching artists, and coaching school staff and teaching artists as they design and implement their classroom residencies. In addition to their work with Right Brain, YA also provides other arts services to thousands upon thousands of students in Oregon and Washington. We work so closely together, what’s good for YA is good for Right Brain, and vice versa.

So, what’s the challenge? Donate any amount to both Right Brain and YA and you will be entered to win an amazing prize package, which includes the following items:

Of course, the possibility of winning these tantalizing prizes is only in addition to the prizes you will necessarily receive from the Give!Guide, based on the size of your gift. Not to mention, you can feel assured that your gift will bring meaningful learning to kids around the Portland area, through dance, video, sculpture, singing and much more.

Head to the Give!Guide now,  find both The Right Brain Initiative and Young Audiences in the Education category, and you can donate to both orgs—and over 100 others included in the guide—in one easy transation. AND, please note—anyone who gives on Thursday, December 18 will be entered to win a case of booze from Rogue Distillery. Charitable giving has simply never been this easy or lucrative. Donate now!

Learn more about Right Brain’s 2014 Give!Guide campaign and goals here.

Give the gift of creative play!  

December 8th, 2014 by Dorit Harvey

Brain Food Photo

Our Brain Food decks include fifty cards with creative challenges to engage imagination for children of all ages! Many of these activities are perfect for chilly days spent staying cozy indoors or bundled up outside, which is why we are so excited to be selling them around town this holiday season. Check out all the ways you can purchase Brain Food:

As the winter months wear on, we could all use more light! For especially dreary days, we highly suggest Activity 8 in which you collect sources of light such as flashlights, glow in the dark items and strand lights to explore with brightness and shadow.  Or, you can create your own food cart with Activity 14—check out the results on Flickr from this activity created by children and families at Art in the Pearl this August.



Brain Food is a wonderful gift for right-brain and left-brain thinkers alike to develop whole-brain thinking skills through arts integration! All sales fund The Right Brain Initiative’s arts programming in local public schools. The Brain Food deck was developed by local educators, designers and artists as a partnership between AIGA Portland Design for Good and The Right Brain Initiative. Please put Brain Food on your shopping list this holiday season!

Announcing The Right Brain Initiative in the Willamette Week Give!Guide

December 2nd, 2014 by Dorit Harvey


During this long Thanksgiving weekend, we spent time thinking about what we are grateful for: 

  • OUR STUDENTS This year, The Right Brain Initiative will reach 20,000 students. The joy we see in our students’ faces when they participate in creative exploration is why we do this work.
  • COMMUNITY SUPPORT: Our principals, teachers, parents, districts and community leaders are imperative to the success of our program. These local supporters advocate for the right of every student to an arts education, representing a major commitment from our community.
  • OUR DONORS: It costs $55 per student served to sustain our program. With a $15 per student investment from school districts, this means we must raise an additional $40 per child each year, and our donors help us make it happen.

We are also extremely thankful to participate in the Willamette Week Give!Guide this winter to grow our individual giving. The Right Brain Initiative grew by 40% in this year alone. As we continue to reach more and more students, the need for individual giving rises. The Give!Guide is also a great opportunity to earn rewards for your gifts. 

The Give!Guide offers incentives from local businesses for individuals who donate to local non-profits.  Starting at $10, you receive freebies and discounts all around Portland from businesses such as Salt & Straw, Stumptown Coffee Roasters, ¿Por Qué No? Taqueria, Portland Center Stage, Music Millennium, and many others. Watch our Twitter feed for updates on Big Give Days. Giving as little as $10 on these days enters you to win prizes such as:

  • TODAY! December 2: Enter to win a Trek Allant 7 bicycle from Bike Gallery
  • December 11: Enter to win an ice cream party for 200 from Salt & Straw
  • December 18: Enter to win a case of spirits from Rogue Distillery

In addition to these incentives, The Right Brain Initiative offers more reasons to give:

The Give!Guide is our biggest fundraiser of the year. Our goal for this year is to raise $17,000 from 300 donors by the Give!Guide deadline of December 31st. The McMenamins challenge offers an extra $1,000 to the organization with the most donors age 35 and younger in each category. Give today to help us reach these goals and bring us one step closer to our goal of bringing arts integration to all students in the region!



Growth in The Right Brain Initiative for 2014-2015!

November 6th, 2014 by Dorit Harvey
Students at East Orient honed their listening skills in a residency with Jan Abramowitz. Photo by Allie Maya.

Students at East Orient honed their listening skills in a Right Brain residency with Jan Abramowitz. Photo by Allie Maya.

As the fall leaves turned their brilliant oranges and reds, The Right Brain Initiative also grew more vibrant for the start of a new school year. This year we will bring high-quality arts-integration programming to 20,000 students! This is an increase of over 40 percent from the 14,000 students served last school year.

More schools and more districts means we are reaching more students than ever before!

More schools and more districts means we are reaching more students than ever before!

We are beyond pleased to welcome the Estacada School District as our seventh district in the program. We will also be partnering with new schools in the Portland Public, Oregon Trail, and Hillsboro School Districts to make a total of 59 partner schools for the 2014-2015 school year.

Below is a list of new schools added to our program this year. Check out a full list of current schools on our website.
NEW SCHOOLS 2014-2015

Clackamas River K-6
Eagle Creek K-6
Eastwood K-6
Evergreen 7-8
Groner K-6
North Plains K-6
West Union K-6
Welches K-8
Abernethy K-5
Faubion PK-8
Vernon K-8

First graders at Quatama collaborated with My Voice Music to create sound waves. Photo by Juanita Martus.

First graders at Quatama collaborated with My Voice Music to create sound waves in this music-filled residency through The Right Brain Initiative. Photo by Juanita Martus.

To kick off our new partnerships and to strengthen continuing relationships, we have been busily running Professional Development sessions for educators and teaching artists. The enthusiastic professionals in these sessions show us that we are in for a truly brilliant year filled with new experiences and collaborations between passionate educators, artists, and students.


The Brain Trust Inaugural Gathering: Join Today!

October 23rd, 2014 by Dorit Harvey
Image by Robb Cummings

Image by Robb Cummings

As guests entered the Witherspoon Building for the inaugural gathering of our Brain Trust donor incentive program last month, they were invited to help create a mural responding to the prompt: “What does a creative classroom look like?” Responses included:

“Freedom to color outside the lines,” “A safe, energetic, inspirational space,” “Interesting prompts to stimulate imagination”, and “Room to run, dance,  and sing.”

Image by Robb Cummings

Image by Robb Cummings

Through this mural, guests were able to envision the classrooms they are helping us create through The Right Brain Initiative. The creative classroom allows imagination and expression to thrive and opens new avenues for exploration. By supporting the work we do, members of the Brain Trust are transforming our schools into a space where all students’ unique strengths and perspectives are valued.

Image by Robb Cummings

Image by Robb Cummings

Image by Robb Cummings

Image by Robb Cummings

Throughout the evening, we enjoyed music performed by members of the Metropolitan Youth Symphony and heard testimonies from staff and parent advocates. Guests also took part in a photo booth where they were invited to blow bubbles at each other or at the camera. The resulting images are fantastic and full of smiles.

Image by James Evans

Image by James Evans

Image by James Evans

Image by James Evans

In addition to releasing the Brain Trust donor incentive program, we also released the most exciting data we have to date on our program. This data, collected in partnership with Wolf Brown and Portland State University, connects our program with an increase in student test scores. In the first year after partnering with our organization, students’ average annual increase in math and reading scores more than doubled. Scores continued to rise as schools deepened their level of engagement in the program. The most dramatic gains were seen in English Language Proficiency, where gains increased at least ten times more than before joining with our program. See our findings featured in the Huffington Post!


As we begin our seventh year, The Right Brain Initiative will reach approximately 20,000 students in 59 schools across seven districts in the region. We aim to provide access to high quality experiences in the arts in all 25 districts across the tri-county region. At full capacity, we will reach a total of 110,000 students. This means we need to grow!

Image by Robb Cummings

Image by Robb Cummings

During this past year, individual giving accounted for less than five percent of our funding. We are ready to expand our impact in the community and for that we need to expand our base of donors. Brain Trust donors receive rewards for every level of donation to The Right Brain Initiative. Donations of $250 or more which are made through the Brain Trust will receive a full match by the Maybelle Clark Macdonald Fund.

Please join us today to show your support for the right of every child to a whole-brain education. Join the Brain Trust!

Image by Robb Cummings

Image by Robb Cummings

We would like to thank all of our donors, supporters and volunteers, and a huge thank you to our event sponsors, who made this gathering possible:
Parliament and The Witherspoon Building
Winderlea Vineyard and Winery
Soter Vineyards
Lompoc Brewing
WillaKenzie Estate Winery

Dorit Harvey is the current outreach apprentice for The Right Brain Initiative and a future elementary educator. She grew up performing and attended an arts magnet high school where she experienced the positive impact of arts integration firsthand. As a teacher, Dorit plans to integrate dramatic activities and the arts to create a classroom community of critical thinkers.

Historic news! Right Brain linked to an increase in student test scores.

September 11th, 2014 by Rebecca


This week, we released some incredible news in our 2014 Progress Report: Researchers have identified a strong correlation between our program and an increase in student test scores.

Dennie Palmer Wolf of the national consultancy WolfBrown, worked with the Portland State University Center for Student Success to access standardized test scores from all 18,711 students who attended Right Brain partner schools between 2008-09 and 2012-13 school years.

They looked at the average increase in scores for these students before working with the Initiative, and found the rate of increase jumped dramatically after their schools joined the Initiative, and scores continued to rise the more deeply engaged a school became with the program.

This is what the increases look like for (left to right) reading, math and English language proficiency, as schools advance through the phases of program engagement (click on the chart to see a larger version):


Left-hand chart: Before schools partnered with Right Brain, the average annual increase in reading test scores was 2 points (gray bars). The first year that schools joined the Initiative, students experienced a jump in test scores of 6.8 points. We can infer that 4.8 points on top of the standard 2 point increase is linked to students’ work with Right Brain. What’s more, as schools progressed along the phases of engagement with Right Brain, reading test scores increased by 7.5, then 8.2, and continued to rise as schools moved closer to full program engagement. The rate of increase was even higher for math scores (center chart), and highest for English language proficiency (right).

We are particularly excited about the incredible increase in English Language Proficiency scores—they raised at least 10 times more once schools began working with Right Brain.

So, does this prove that Right Brain drives test scores? Of course not. But we are excited to see such a strong correlation. These numbers reinforce what we’ve believed to be true all along: integrated arts education truly drives learning. 

Learn  more:

This news has been featured elsewhere, too!

Morgan uses big brain power to create incredible art!

September 7th, 2014 by Maya McFaddin

We have spent the last few months compiling our Progress Report for the 2013-14 school year. We have enjoyed the process of looking over our highlights from the year, and we are particularly excited to reminisce about an interview with Morgan, a Right Brain student and 3rd grader at Milwaukie Elementary School. Morgan made an amazing robot bird during a Right Brain residency with teaching artist Caitlin Shelman, in which she learned about geometric shapes and 3-dimensional design. Her robot bird is composed of cones, pyramids, rectangles, and cylinders made from recycled materials. Morgan is eager to share the inner-workings of her robot, as she explains, she added moving parts, a password screen, an on/off switch, an Enter and Delete key, and a power source.

Listening to Morgan talk, you understand the level of creative and critical thinking involved in this project. She made creative choices and solved problems to make a really unique beast that looked and worked the way she wanted it to. You can also see how much she learned about geometry through this process, and the sense of ownership she felt over her own educational experience — enough to want to take the robot home and keep working on it! This an excellent example of  Right Brain helping kids learn subjects in the classroom, while also helping them learn to use their minds well.

Enjoy listening! 

Introducing the Brain Trust!

August 13th, 2014 by Maya McFaddin


It is on this very special day that we announce The Right Brain Initiative’s first association of individual donors, the Brain Trust. It is our way of saying thank you! Every donor who makes a contribution of $10 or more to Right Brain will receive a whole slew of perks—think of these as tokens of our gratitude (and check out the specifics below!).

It has been about 5 years since Right Brain’s founding and so far, we have had little history of individual giving. We created the Brain Trust in an effort to expand this part of our program and it has been a exciting project for us. We are eager to share it with you all and hope you like it!

You now have an opportunity to be part of the inaugural giving team and one of the first official members of the Brain Trust. If you join in the next month with a donation of $50 or more, you will receive an invitation to an exciting event at the Witherspoon Building in downtown Portland on Tuesday, September 8th.

Check out the perks below and then CLICK HERE TO MAKE AN ONLINE DONATION and become a founding member of the Brain Trust.


Grassroots Donor Levels

$10–$49: Gray Matter You are the foundation for our work. You receive:

  • Your name listed on the Right Brain website
  • Advocacy postcard to send to the closest Right Brain partner superintendent

$50–$99: Nimble Neurons $50 supplies a modeling clay set for one Kindergarten classroom. You receive all of the above, plus:

  • Your name printed in our annual progress report mailed to your home
  • Digital invitation to public Right Brain events

$100–$249: Flickering Synapses $100 pays for one voice recorder, allowing a pair of 7th graders to explore identity and culture through digital storytelling. You receive all of the above, plus:

  • Update from our schools delivered to your mailbox
  • Printed invitation to a private student art reception
  • Right Brain window decal

$250–$499: Steady Cerebellum $250 pays for one 2nd grade teacher to spend a full day with Right Brain, learning to integrate the arts throughout their curriculum. You receive all of the above, plus:

  • 25% discount on Right Brain merchandise
  • 25% discount on any of our ticketed public programs
  • Reserved seating at free Right Brain events
  • Complimentary Brain Food activity deck

$500–$999: Mighty Midbrain $500 lets one full class of 3rd graders experience math and movement with a Right Brain teaching artist. You receive all of the above, plus:

  • Invitation to our annual spring reflection colloquium for Right Brain educators

Leadership Donor Levels

$1,000–$2,499: Creative Cortex $1,000 enables two 1st grade classrooms to examine physics and three-dimensional design through the creation of kinetic sculptures. You receive all of the above, plus:

  • Invitation to a school site visit
  • Private lunch with founding program manager Marna Stalcup

$2,500–$4,999: Lobe of Imagination $2,500 takes five 5th grade classrooms through an exploration of colonization, the Declaration of Independence, and social justice with writing and printmaking. You receive all of the above, plus:

  • Complimentary arts workshop at your home, event or office
  • Invitation to Right Brain professional development for teachers and artists

$5,000–$9,999: Radical Right Brain $5,000 allows an entire elementary school full of children to engage creative and critical thinking skills in the classroom. You receive all of the above, plus:

  • Invitation to an annual funders event
  • Framed print of student artwork
  • Invitation to a donor plaque unveiling at a local school

$10,000–$24,999: King Cranium $10,000 gives one elementary school full Right Brain partnership for one year, including visits from a teaching artist to all classrooms, collaborative planning time with school staff, art materials, professional training for three teachers and a principal, and coaching from Right Brain staff. You receive all of the above, plus:

  • Your name listed on a plaque at a Right Brain partner school
  • Private lunch with the school principal

$25,000 and up: Omniscient Right Brainiac $25,000 funds two Portland metro area middle schools’ full partnership with Right Brain for one year, including all the elements listed above. You receive all of the above, plus:

  • Plaque dedicated to you at a Right Brain partner school with an unveiling ceremony in your honor
  • Access to visit this school four times during the year