The date was June 16, 2010, 10:07am their time; 7:07, ours. The e-mail from Washington, DC was one we’d been eagerly anticipating for several weeks. It arrived and the most important line read, “I am delighted to let you know that Portland will be the third Any Given Child site!” Signed by Barbara Shepherd, Director of National Partnerships, The Kennedy Center.
I’m not sure what possessed me, but following the obvious and customary thank you in my e-mail reply, I added, “I am tap dancing around my desk!” The only thing that stopped me from doing so is the configuration of my workspace. Well past my days of studying tap while working at Portland Public Schools’ Jefferson High School, I can still, rather clumsily, shuffle-off-to-Buffalo and execute a time step. I was ecstatic and my instinct was to dance! I was alone in the office, which was probably a good thing.
I’ve been in the business of arts education (an interesting term in itself) in the Portland area for more than 30 years. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen the opportunities, sensed the commitment and felt the level of optimism for this cause that I do now. As in comedy, timing is everything. Maybe our time has finally arrived. I’d like to think so.
In April, RACC submitted its application for Any Given Child, an initiative that seeks to bring access, balance, and equity to each child’s arts education. The program builds on the resources of the school district, local arts groups, and the Kennedy Center, and requires the endorsement of the district and the Mayor’s office. The superintendents from Right Brain’s four partner school districts – Gresham-Barlow, Hillsboro, North Clackamas and Portland Public Schools – as well as Mayor Sam Adams jumped on board without hesitation. Their enthusiasm is beyond measure. A site visit was scheduled and in early June, Barbara Shepherd and Kennedy Center Vice President of Education Darryl Ayers met with the Right Brain Governing Committee, the Mayor and the team of superintendents. We passed the final test with flying colors.
So what does being “the third Any Given Child site” mean? First, we join Sacramento, CA and Springfield, MO in this endeavor and look forward to sharing our progress with our new “sister cities.” Secondly, we’ve put the Portland area on the national map as a serious player in providing every child with the opportunity to engage in active learning, spark their imaginations and stimulate innovation as part of their everyday education. Our community is well known as a creative hub. It’s about time that we provided ALL of our students with the same opportunities.
Our work will begin in October. In the fall, we will conduct a survey of arts education resources currently available in the community and the K-8 schools of the four districts. This is an important step since the most recent system-wide data we have is four or five years old. Analysis of these findings will lead to the development of a proposal to help address identified gaps and needs and will help us advance the work of The Right Brain Initiative. A year from now, we will unveil a plan that meets the goals of Any Given Child, one that is tailor-made for the Portland area.
We will rely on the expertise of a Community Arts Team, an assembly of school district and community representatives identified for a one-year appointment to oversee the research, conduct school site visits and make recommendations on next steps. As is the Portland way, we expect that information sharing will occur across the tri-county area throughout the process.
We welcome the new school year with open arms and tons of optimism. Call me a Pollyanna if you want, but in spite of the grim economic news, I anticipate a promising future. I hope you do too.