On March 21st, Right Brain joined the Regional Arts & Culture Council for its annual State of the Arts presentation, a moving report to City Council on the indispensable value of the City’s investment in our region’s cultural pursuits. Over 200 members of the community — among them artists, arts advocates, teachers, business owners and non-profit staff — filed into City Hall to embody support for sustained public funding of the arts and to hear from a panoply of voices representing Portland’s diverse arts institutions and organizations. Together, the audience and the presenters were proudly in service of one poignant message of solidarity: If we work to ensure the arts, we simultaneously ensure the integrity of our very own community.
While presenters highlighted the many ambitions and projects that have been realized in our community as a result of such funding, they also acknowledged the major areas in which deficiencies persist. In light of the diminishing budgets and systematic cropping of arts programs experienced by Portland’s public school districts this fiscal year, it’s no surprise that the presentation foregrounded arts education as the prevailing example of an unmet need in the public funding arena.
Eloquently complementing Right Brain’s portion of the report was Marcela Arredondo, a Spanish immersion teacher at Right Brain partner PreK-8 school Beach (North Portland), who shared her compelling firsthand case for continued investment in arts education. She movingly spoke of her diverse group of 1st graders who have access to a mere 35 minutes of arts instruction per week, and for whom linking culture and curriculum is a crucial step in overcoming language barriers. Citing a merengue dance residency her class participated in through Right Brain programming, Ms. Arredondo described the leaps in learning made possible through meaningful engagement with the arts. Watch the full testimonial here.
Ms. Arredondo’s voice was heard in concert with many others in the presentation, including Parkrose School District Superintendent Karen Fischer Gray, Write around Portland Program Coordinator Thomas Cordova and two students from a poetry workshop hosted by the program, State Representative Lew Frederick and a melodious group of Sabin School Kindergarten students, among others. The Creative Advocacy Network (CAN) joined in to present an update on its remarkable progress in establishing a dedicated public funding stream for the arts and arts education. To hear excerpts of the many compelling reports and appeals, watch the excellent recap video produced by the City here.
Below is the full text of Ms. Arredondo’s testimonial.
“Buenos días, me llamo Marcela Arredondo y soy maestro del primer grado. Trabajo en el progama de immersión en la escuela Beach.
Good morning, my name is Marcela Arredondo and I am a first grade teacher in the Spanish immersion program at Beach K-8. Beach is a Title I school located in North Portland. With 550 students our population is diverse; 35% of our students are Latino, while a combined 27% identify as students of color, including African American, Native American and Asian. 56% of our population is on free and reduced lunch.
With one arts teacher serving our entire K-8, my first grade students receive 35 minutes of formal art instruction a week. That is less than 1% of their education. For many, the time spent in school is the only exposure to the arts they receive. With limited resources and support it is difficult to teach proficiency in any content area, and art is being left behind.
All students, and especially my first graders, learn through creative exploration that is integrated with content instruction. This is critical in language immersion programs because we are teaching language through and with the core content areas. We must shelter our instruction in unique, inspiring and artistic ways so that our students have equitable access to their education.
The Right Brain Initiative offers solutions to the deep needs of my students. Through our artist residency we have infused not only Latino culture, but respect into our classroom, all through dance. Dancing the merengue incorporates movement, which young bodies need to focus and learn, while also providing music and appreciation of a culture. Merengue has allowed us writing prompts and art lessons and even inspired a merengue song, written by my class, about the writing process, now that is genuine, artistic content integration. And the unintended lessons of respect, I am finding more valuable than my original lesson objectives. Through dance, my students are learning appropriate touch, kindness, and joy for each other, which my 6 and 7 year olds have been struggling with all year.
Como maestro Latina en un programa de immersión es sumamente importante aprender a integrar la cultura y el idioma con el curículo.
As a Latina teacher in an immersion program it is of utmost importance to marry culture, language and curriculum. The Right Brain Initiative provides resources and education to those of us in need while pushing us to think in creative and complex ways. I am able to learn from my resident artist new strategies, I am collecting techniques, songs and lesson plans that integrate art at every level. This partnership develops and gives my teaching a new focus that allows my students to think in resourceful and imaginative ways.
On behalf of the staff at Beach and my students I thank you for this opportunity. Muchas Gracias.”
Watch testimonials from past State of the Arts Presentations:
2011: Aubrey Pagenstecher; then a Pre-Kindergarten teacher at Woodlawn in Northeast Portland
2010: Holly Wilson; then a 6th grade teacher at Rigler in North Portland