The bulk of the staff at the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC), Right Brain’s managing partner, packed it in with a couple hundred other Portland area arts advocates at the State of the Arts presentation Wednesday at Portland’s City Hall. The entire affair, including a review of RACC’s work during the past year, performances and testimonies by various members of the arts community, can only be described as enlivening and reassuring. But more than anything—and I’m sure it’s only partly due to my decided interest in The Right Brain Initiative—I will say that I was most significantly moved by the thoughts provided by Holly Wilson, sixth grade teacher at Right Brain partner school Rigler K-8.
Ms. Wilson, as the kids call her, spoke to the impact of our program on her students at Rigler, a highly diverse Northeast Portland school. Her students have had the arts integrated into their curriculum through Right Brain residencies with both BodyVox and the Oregon Children’s Theatre. She delivered a powerful reminder of the importance of what we’re doing at Right Brain and why I’m excited to come to work every day. I am not too proud, or too serious, to say that this testimony literally brought a tear to my eye at City Hall, and did so again when I watched the video archive just now. So, I thought I would share the video with you all.
If you weren’t able to view the presentation live at City Hall, I encourage you to watch the entire State of the Arts presentation. But to hone in on Ms. Wilson’s speech, you can skip ahead to 51:00.
And here is the written version of her testimony, for those who’d rather read:
Good morning, I’m Holly Wilson. I am a 6th grade teacher at Rigler K-8 School. I’m here today to talk about how The Right Brain Initiative has had a direct impact on my students. Rigler is in Northeast Portland with about 600 students enrolled. Our students come from a variety of cultural, language, and economic backgrounds. Eighty-five percent of our students are on the Free and Reduced Lunch program, and 36% are English Language Learners. For many of the students at Rigler, their access to the arts begins, and ends, at school. Luckily, my students and I have had the opportunity to learn from a variety of artists through The Right Brain Initiative.
As a teacher, one of my greatest challenges is to make the academic content comprehensible to all learners. Our artist residencies worked with me, and other teachers, to take the content standards and integrate them seamlessly into a variety of mediums. Dance became Astronomy. Theater became History. Drumming became Geography and an unexpected lesson on teamwork and cooperation. This collaboration has pushed me to become more innovative with my own teaching practice.
In the 6th grade, students are already solidifying their beliefs about the type of student they are and the role that school plays in their life. The Right Brain Initiative gives students opportunities to say, “I get it,” “I’m good at this,” “I can do it!”
This year I was struggling to increase student participation in class discussions, especially among female students and English Language Learners. After our brief residency with the Oregon Children’s Theater’s Loud and Clear program, all students in my classroom are eager to share their ideas. We constantly refer back to the speaking skills we learned and my students are now asking permission to stand up in front of the room while addressing their peers. The Right Brain Initiative has given the 6th graders in the Cully Neighborhood of Northeast Portland a voice. This is priceless.
When I told my students that I would be here today, they were full of suggestions. They also let me know their personal feelings about the artist residencies. I have the great privilege of sharing their voices with you today. My students say that the artist residencies make school much more fun and interesting. The programs made them want to come to school. The artists inspired them and gave them the opportunity to interact with the content, rather than just listening to it. With the drumming circle they learned that if they didn’t listen and stay in rhythm with one another they sounded bad. But if they all worked together, they made music. Rigler has been enriched through these programs and I believe that every child deserves access to the Right Brain residencies. My students and I thank you for supporting RACC, for listening, and for your time.
For more reflections on the State of the Arts presentation, I recommend reviewing the following posts: (1) Cary Clarke, the new Arts & Culture Policy Coordinator for the City of Portland recaps on the Mayor’s blog; and (2) Reflections by DK Row, lead arts writer for The Oregonian, bred some unusually intelligent comments from readers.