The Right Brain Initiative


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


PSU and Right Brain Collaborate Again

August 12th, 2014 by Colin Staub


On August 2, folks learned to salsa dance to help out Right Brain.

The dance lesson was part of “Ignite Your Passion,” an event hosted by Portland State University students to benefit The Right Brain Initiative. The students were taking a class taught by PSU professor Suzanne Savaria, called “Performing Arts Advocacy.” This is one of PSU’s capstone courses, which are designed to get students out into the Portland community to make a positive difference. Savaria has partnered with Right Brain for several school terms, and students have learned how to advocate for the arts, taking on various projects that engage with Right Brain.

Last summer I took the same course. I was hesitant about the prospect of putting together a fundraiser event—I didn’t have much experience asking for donations. But over the course of four weeks my group managed to put together a house concert, and I was amazed at the generosity people had shown. Everything—venue, music, food and beer—had been donated.

This year I served as a mentor for students in the same class, and gave advice based on my own experience.

“Ignite Your Passion” was awesome. It featured a silent auction, with an impressive array of items to bid on. From gift cards to paintings, baskets of Dave’s Killer Bread to a full-service party at the Billiards Club, there was something for everyone. Some items even led to silent bidding wars.

Then attendees were informed the salsa dancing portion of the evening would commence. I was aware there would be a performance, but I admit I was taken off guard when the lesson began. For an inexperienced salsa dancer such as myself, it sounded a bit daunting. But half an hour later, the entire room was loving it. Our instructors quickly got us up to speed with the music, and even I felt like I knew what I was doing.

Next we switched musical gears, and learned some U-Jam dance moves. This was faster-paced than the salsa dancing, and was quite the workout. Again, I was unfamiliar with the dance style, but with our teachers’ instruction I was able to “body roll” with the rest of them.

U-Jam got everyone energized and ready to make a final bid on the auction item of their choice. Then the auction closed, folks collected their winnings, and the night concluded.

Even though the planning team was small, they managed to put together an outstanding event. The target was to raise $250. “Ignite Your Passion” raised $709.50, which is just short of the total raised by all four groups in the class I was a part of, combined.

Excellent job, capstone students! Thank you for showing how successful and enjoyable these fundraisers can be!

Inspired by the story of “Ignite Your Passion”? Learn more about how you can host your own event!


2014-08-02 19.30.41

One of the many silent auction tables.




Colin Staub is a freelance journalist in Portland. He experienced the benefits of arts integration early on, while attending daVinci Arts Middle School.

Worldbuilding: an Art of Science

July 3rd, 2014 by Jake Turner

When I was little, my go-to game was always make-believe. In the wake of Harry Potter’s colossal popularity, my best friend and I would make believe that we were at a school for wizards. Of course, it wasn’t enough that we just imagined being wizards-in-training, we would take hours to set up our own classrooms for this wizarding school. We’d gather our toys and various crafts from around the house, set up pillows as seats and wear blankets as cloaks. Most often, our play date would end before we even had a chance to finish designing the classes, but sometimes we’d manage to enact our magical education. Potions class would have us tossing toy frogs, toothpaste, and cat hair in the bathtub to make an elixir for controlling the weather. In divination, we taught each other how to read the future from a randomly scattered deck of Pokémon cards. It was never enough to just imagine we were at a wizard school – we had to create rules, use props and costumes to strengthen our belief in the world we had built.

wizard jake

Me as a wizard at age 6.

I still build my own worlds, but instead of gathering solid objects to make them more believable, I gather details and facts to create imaginary planets and write stories about them.

As a kid, the toys and the blankets and the pillows were real, they were tangible and I believed in them because I could understand them in a certain way. Now the things I use as my toys and blankets and pillows can’t be held, but they are still believable because of how I understand them. My new “toys” are facts about how the world works and how the pieces of the universe fit together to create the place in which we live. To build my own imaginary worlds, I take details from the real world and rearrange them so they seem more magical.

The details can be how wolves affect the flow of rivers or how the moon stabilizes the seasons on Earth; these elements fit together because of what we know through science.

We can observe what we know of the universe – observe how planets are affected by gravity and what role each animal plays in their ecosystem – and come up with rules for how everything interacts with everything else. This observation and cataloging of rules is the essence of science and the building of imaginary worlds simply borrows the rules and turns them into a game.

It’s all still about making believe. I like to imagine wild and magical things and I like to imagine that they’re real. By looking at how the world works today, I can imagine things moved around and changed and come up with something that is astonishing but believable because it fits laws such as gravity and thermodynamics.

To justify imagining a wizard into my world, I think of what their magic is. Does a wizard that controls fire simply have the ability to excite particles around themselves, creating heat and fire? Do they hold technology that nobody else understands? Or is all of their “magic” just illusion and sleight of hand? By answering these questions, you can begin to see what kind of environment a wizard would fit into. Though there are no wizards on Earth, we can use the rules of our planet to believe they could exist.

Worldbuilding is all about asking questions. It is an art of constructing a country or a planet or a universe by asking questions of our own world and piecing the answers together to make something new. In doing that, we also learn more about the world in which we live.

In a classroom, allowing imaginative play through worldbuilding can reinforce the lessons of science and bring an opportunity for personalized learning  to every child.

Jake Turner is an actor, educator and student in the Performing Arts Advocacy capstone class at Portland State University. 

The Imagination Fund: Reaching Challenges, Extending the Arts

June 30th, 2014 by Meredith Wong

Earlier this school year, we introduced the second round of our fundraising campaign—The Imagination Fund—to raise $25,000. As a part of this campaign, the Maybelle Clark McDonald Fund agreed to match each contribution, dollar-for-dollar, if we hit $25,000 by June 15th. Needless to say, we reached our goal!

Earning this match was a joint effort between Right Brain staff and the Grassroots Fundraising Task Force, community members, and volunteers. Throughout the year, we organized regular neighborhood events and activities, such as trivia nights and dinner parties hosted by individuals. 

Through our collective time and effort, these funds will help support arts education programs for K-8th grades in the tri-county area. We are also especially thankful for our gracious donors and event hosts, who helped make this match possible!

  • Individual Donors: Nancy Archer, Sylvia Ashmore, Melody Bridges, Verlea Briggs, Greg Chapman, Carson and Sela Cies, Jodi Delahunt Hubbell and Todd Hubbell, Cameron Drilling,  Michelle Eraut, Savannah Gilmore, Gary Hartnett, Marvin James, Joe and Flizita Kaiser,  Kenzo Kubo, Michael Maas, Joe Mabe, Ashley McClellan, Josie Mendoza, Cate Millar, Robert Nicholas, Frank Palacios, Dorothy Piacentini, Geoff Phillips, Carla Piluso, Wallace Preble, Melissa Ranucci Soll, Emily Ritter, Elizabeth Rusch, Steve Seabold, Tyler M. Smith and Melissa M. Smith, T.A. Smith, Nick Walrod, Donna Allen Wardenaar, Thomas and Jodi Watson, Dan Wieden, Sadie Yudkin

  • Pooled Gifts from Hosted Events: Alan Alexander, Kaitlyn Allegretti, Marina Barcelo, Danielle Bastien,  Bruce & Julia Brown, Tamara Bruketta & Justin Yngelmo, Teralyn Bruketta, Thomas Bruketta, Marilyn Couch, Matt & Lara Drouhard, Westie Freeman, Wayne Harvey, Marcy Haugh, Sarah Knuth & Kurt Weller, Martha Koenig, Kenneth Kolarsky & Cynthia Gladen, Parker & Katherine Lee, Nora Lehnhoff, Christine Lorenz, Jeremy Marks, Genna Martin,  Gavin McCardle, Ron Miller, Caprice J. Neely, Edwin Perry & Deborah Peterson, Cynthia Pease, Jerome Rillera, Allison Rueckl & Liz Donovan, Randy Short, Jamie Smeland, Colin Staub, Carol Triffle & Jerry Mouawad, Ricardo Vasquez, Barbara & Karl Wetzel, Annie Wilkins

Although we reached our goal, the challenge grant continues! We have now entered the third and final year of the Maybelle Clark McDonald Fund, so be sure to keep us and our students in mind by donating here.

Meredith Wong is the current Development Apprentice for The Right Brain Initiative. She is a graduate student in the Arts and  Administration program at University of Oregon. 

Learn more about becoming a Right Brain Teaching Artist!

June 26th, 2014 by Rebecca

Last school year, Right Brain Teaching Artist Caitlin Shelman taught in both English and Spanish at El Puente Elementary in Milwaukie. (Photo by Robb Cummings.)

UPDATE: Please see our full call for teaching artists and download the RFQ.

Are you interested in becoming a part of the Right Brain Teaching Artist Roster? In just a few days, we’ll release our request for qualifications (RFQ) for the 2015-16 school year, but, in the meantime, we want to make sure these information sessions are on your calendar. We look forward to telling you more about what it means to work as a teaching artist with Right Brain, and the qualifications we’re looking for this time around.

Join us on one of the following dates to hear from Right Brain’s Teaching Artist Program Manager Briana Linden and other staff, and ask any specific questions you may have:

(1) General Information Session

Wednesday, July 16, 1:30-2:30 pm
Teatro Milagro
525 SE Stark St, Portland

(2) Information Session—focus on artists of color

Monday, July 21, 4:30-5:30 pm
810 SE Belmont St, Portland


Please contact

Calling all teaching artists and arts organizations interested in partnering with Right Brain

June 23rd, 2014 by Maia McCarthy

Teaching artist Subashini Ganesan of Young Audiences works with The Right Brain Initiative in Gresham. Photo by Leah Verwey.

The Right Brain Initiative calls for a new kind of education with an emphasis on creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication—natural areas of focus for the arts. We believe that the link between creative and analytical thought is strong, and we aim to ignite all learners by partnering with teaching artists, arts organizations and school communities to show the value of integrating the arts into other curricular areas. In doing this, Right Brain endeavors to create long-term, sustainable and systemic change to educational practices.

Our investment in our teaching artists begins with our call for artists. Just as we seek to make a deep and lasting change within our regional educational system, so have we crafted a request for qualifications and submissions process that requires the time and dedication of prospective applicants and allows us to better get to know the artists and arts organizations interested in partnering with us. The process begins in summer 2014, with final decisions made in December 2014.  Accepted teaching artists will be eligible for work in Right Brain schools in the 2015-16 school year.

If you are an arts educator who is interested in partnering with The Right Brain Initiative, join us to learn more at an informational meeting either on July 16 or July 21. (See below for more details.)

Is this call right for me?

For the 2015-2016 school year we seek teaching artists who demonstrate mastery of teaching in one or more of the following:


  • Mask making and/or puppetry

  • Elements of dance composition/choreography
  • Exploring world cultures through dance
Visual Arts

  • Paper arts including printmaking and photography
  • Sculpture

  • Composition
  • Active exploration of music vocabulary

  • Media literacy
  • Technology-based arts
Writing/Literary Arts

  • Using writing to explore underrepresented cultures
  • Spoken word


Additionally, candidates must demonstrate:

  • Experience teaching the arts in traditional and non-traditional classrooms, including lesson planning.
  • Experience with arts integration and other collaborative teaching methods.
  • A strong commitment to Right Brain’s values of equity, collaboration, sustainability and accountability.
  • Previous experience teaching in a school day classroom setting with students from diverse backgrounds (economic, language, cultural, and a range of learning styles).
  • Reside or be headquartered in the state of Oregon.

Preference will be given to artists residing in the suburban and rural areas of the Regional Arts & Culture Council service footprint of Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington Counties. Preference will be given to qualified teaching artists of color; those working in culturally-specific art forms; and applicants fluent in languages that are common the region’s public schools, including Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Somali.



If you’d like to learn more about The Right Brain Initiative and the application process, please join us for an informational meeting:

General Information Session

Wednesday, July 16 1:30-2:30 pm
Teatro Milagro, 525 SE Stark St, Portland

Information Session – special focus on artists of color

Monday, July 21 4:30-5:30 pm
Zoomtopia, 810 SE Belmont St, Portland

QUESTIONS? Please contact



Welcome, Estacada School District!

June 19th, 2014 by Rebecca

We are excited to report that we will take on the Estacada School District next year as our seventh partner school district. We will be working with Clackamas River and Eagle Creek Elementary Schools, providing integrated arts programming for their students, and professional development for their staff.

Read yesterday’s announcement about the partnership, as published in the Estacada News. In particular, we really like this quote from Seth Johnson, principal at Clackamas River: 

“We believe arts [are] a very important piece of education….What we’re hoping to have with this Right Brain Initiative is a more comprehensive plan for how we role out our arts.”

We are so charmed that Clackamas River Elementary has its own Twitter handle. Please find them at @CREChinooks!

These two schools will join the 49 current Right Brain partner schools, and other new schools to be announced this fall. See a full list of 2013-14 Right Brain partner schools.

How the Arts Empower

June 17th, 2014 by Aleah Romer

There are many who do not feel that the arts are an important and crucial aspect in terms of empowerment. They, like Rainn Wilson in the video above, feel that the most important things fall within Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Yes, a person needs water, shelter, and food in order to physically survive. But in order to thrive you must also give them the ability to connect with both themselves and their community. Art allows people to do that. It allows people to reach out and find connections with others, as well as the ability to explore their innermost thoughts.

One of the speakers at this year’s State of the Arts was Joaquin Lopez. One of his recurring messages was that “art makes an impact” — not just for the individual, but also for the community. Lopez described how, as a member of both the Latino and LGBT communities; he was marginalized for much of his life. After he was awarded one of RACC’s project grants, Lopez described how his life was transformed. Lopez stated that “With [RACC’s] support I will empower my community through creative expression.” He had the time that he needed to work on giving both himself, and his communities, a voice. It is a moving testimony that you can watch for yourself here (Lopez’s testimony begins at 57:28).

Art helps us figure out who we are, what we love, and how we see ourselves in connection with the rest of the world, they help us find our voice and share our passion, and most importantly, the arts give us a medium with which to express our identity.

Aleah Romer is an undergraduate student at Portland State University, blogging for Right Brain through her Performing Arts Advocacy capstone class.