- Melina Paris
By Melina Paris, Arts and Culture Reporter
For as long as many can remember, educators and parents have complained about school funding and how subjects outside of the three R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic), such as the arts, are discarded. But there’s one nonprofit that has been working to bring the arts into the classroom when school districts can’t — Angels Gate Arts Education Program.
The Angels Gate Arts Education Program is in its 20th year doing this work. For 12 weeks at a time in the fall and spring semesters, the artist-in-classroom-residency program offers instruction to students in 120 classrooms across 15 schools in Los Angeles County, connecting San Pedro’s elementary and high school students to art in a tangible way.
Through this program, second graders are learning dance, third graders are introduced to visual arts and fifth graders are introduced to creative writing. Through partners like the Grand Vision Foundation in San Pedro, fourth and fifth graders are being introduced to music through the nonprofit’s Meet the Music youth education program.
The program is designed to promote creativity across several disciplines and critical thinking skills that meet California visual and performing arts standards. It introduces arts vocabulary and demonstrates fine art concepts. The nonprofit’s director of arts education, Colleen Andrews, noted that the artists-in-residence dictate the program and bring their own practice into the classroom to help students understand the creative process.
Teachers share artworks from a range of cultures. One artist-teacher has a curriculum on various cultures’ traditions of weaving, including Egypt and Africa. She talks about the Tongva in Los Angeles and how different cultures used patterns in their weavings. The students can understand how that tradition goes back in time in many cultures.
“We have a new teacher who is bringing hip-hop to the second grade,” Andrews said. “He talks about the history of hip hop in LA. The children learn about the different traditions as they perform the art form.”
Andrews said the program is great because there’s that feeling of creativity and education in a different way throughout the school, not just in certain classrooms. The weekly Arts Education program is an hour long and teachers are encouraged to bring projects that last multiple weeks.
“It teaches students about editing and being very thoughtful about the process of learning as opposed to just sit down and this is right or wrong then you move onto the next lesson,” Andrews said. “That structure is different for [students] and it’s exciting.”
The California Arts Council have gathered statistics showing that creativity is the number one attribute sought by today’s employers; and that a student involved in the arts is four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement; that arts engagement results in higher attendance and lower dropout rates; and low-income students with high arts engagement are more than twice as likely to graduate college as their peers with no arts education.
The Arts Education program at Angels Gate mostly receives funding from foundations or grants to bring these programs into schools at no cost but there’s always more that can be done. Angels Gate has been considering a pathway from Kindergarten through 12th grade to ensure that children, no matter what grade level, get those art experiences.
“For example, if our [students] leave fifth grade and have been through dance, visual arts, music and creative writing, then they go to middle school … are there opportunities for electives in middle school and where they can continue learning in one of those art forms?” Andrews posited. “Unfortunately, we know that’s not always the case.”
This year, for the first time Angels Gate will have foundation funding to bring the program into a middle school in San Pedro. They look forward to expanding their programming but also to expand those experiences for the children once they leave elementary school, making sure that they can continue that learning.
Andrews said they are thrilled to have that funding this year. Though plans aren’t entirely set yet, Angels Gate is working toward bringing the program to Dana Middle School.
The need to reach out to the parents to ensure they know just what the cultural center provides to their children gave birth to the Family Workshop for all ages at Angels Gate, which happens on the third Saturday of every month. At $5 for the whole family, they are expanding outreach to the whole community and going beyond just the classroom making these experiences available to everybody.