The Right Brain Initiative


Video: Pre-K teacher advocates for Right Brain at State of the Arts.

April 3rd, 2011 by Right Brain Team

This March, Right Brain again participated in the Regional Arts & Culture Council’s annual State of the Arts presentation to Portland City Council. Each year, this presentation reports to the Council (the biggest supporter for both RACC and Right Brain) the value of the City’s investment in our creative life.

We were pleased to report that while Right Brain will one day reach all public K-8 schools in this region, we’ve begun with some of the students that need it most. Within Portland Public Schools, 64% of the students we serve qualify for the  free or reduced lunch program. 46% are students of color and 18.5% are English language learners.

But most memorably at this event, we were honored to present a testimonial from Pre-K teacher Aubrey Pagenstecher, who has worked with Right Brain in her classroom at Woodlawn School in Northeast Portland. She eloquently spoke about the value of providing creative education to children who rarely have access to the arts outside of school, and how Right Brain has helped empower her as a teacher to integrate the arts into her classroom on a regular basis.

Click here to watch Aubrey’s full testimonial on YouTube.  There’s a lot of info here, so we’ve also included the text of this testimonial here:

“Good morning.  My name is Aubrey Pagenstecher and I teach Pre-K at Woodlawn School, in NE Portland. I’m here today to share the impact that RACC, and specifically The Right Brain Initiative, has had in my classroom.

Woodlawn is a Title I school serving approximately 450 students in grades PreK-8.  More than three-quarters of our students are African-, Asian- or Latin-American.  Nearly 80% of our families qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Opportunities for and access to arts experiences at school are limited, and simply not available to most of our students outside of school. At Woodlawn, we have a half-time visual arts teacher, who is only able to serve grades K-5 once per week. Given the resources available, it is difficult to help students become culturally and artistically proficient. 

Woodlawn is one of only a handful of schools in our district that offer free Pre-K, and our involvement with The Right Brain Initiative makes us even more unique. There is a growing awareness—both at the state and nation level—of the importance of early childhood education. Governor Kitzhaber’s latest initiatives are a reflection of the critical need to lay a solid foundation for our youngest learners. By providing opportunities for arts integration with students at every age, Right Brain is helping us to strengthen that foundation.  

For four- and five-year olds, play is the primary vehicle for learning. My students learn best when they are active, have opportunities to make choices and can be hands-on with their work.  (They’ll enthusiastically accept any invitation to be fingers-, feet-, and elbows-on with their work, as well.) They delight in exploring new materials, creating, and sharing discoveries with each other and their caregivers.

With the resources and support that Right Brain offers, I have been able to provide meaningful arts experiences that are integrated into our existing curriculum. During our last residency, my students participated in a week-long puppet theatre project. Each class brought a traditional folk tale to life as they actively engaged in all aspects of the production process. Throughout the project, the art form opened avenues into every content area, providing opportunities to reinforce basic skills and introduce new concepts. Most importantly, the children were empowered by seeing themselves as artists and performers.

Working with and learning from artists directly is a powerful experience for students, but Right Brain has had a significant impact on my teaching practice, as well. Through my collaborations with teaching artists, I’ve been exposed to new methods, skills and techniques. As I develop my own artistic repertoire and knowledge, I am able to make new inroads to the arts, thereby improving the experience of my students. Through professional development with The Right Brain Initiative, I’ve learned strategies that can be applied across the curriculum, to help my students to be more observant and think in deeper and more complex ways.   

This year, our residency is school-wide, and based on themes that apply to students at all grade levels. The work in my classroom begins Monday, and I’m so excited about the possibilities that are in store.  

So on behalf of myself and my students, past and present, I’d like to express my gratitude for your commitment to providing high-quality educational experiences. Your investment is not only in the arts, but in the children themselves. While the success of programs like The Right Brain Initiative can be measured in a number of ways, ultimately, the returns are incalculable. Thank you for your time.”

—Aubrey Pagenstecher

Want more on State of the Arts?
Read a complete recap from local writer Suzi Steffen, and another from Caryn Brooks, Policy Coordinator at the office of Portland Mayor Sam Adams.

See the testimony from 2010’s State of the Arts presentation given by Holly Wilson, then a 6th grade teacher at Right Brain partner school Rigler.


Right Brain Team