With many schools over the years having to cut back on art education, the Lane Arts Council is doing its best to bring it back with an arts-integration model for middle schools. Oaklea Middle School is one of five Lane County middle schools where the project, ArtCore, is being implemented.
ArtCore, is a four-year development and research initiative that unties community artists with middle school teachers to develop “arts-based teaching and learning customized to meet the needs and goals of the school,” according to the Lane Arts Council website.
Oaklea is on its fourth year of the ArtCore program. The school received grants in 2015 from both the Lane Arts Council and the Oregon Community Federation to bring the arts back into schools. The OCF grant will end next year, while ArtCore will end this year.
Principal Justin Corey said that 15 to 17 years ago Oaklea had significant budget cuts, which made them lose many elective courses and teachers.
“When a grant came available, it was a way to bring art back to the building,” he said. “It was a no-brainer in terms of wanting it, and we were fortunate enough to be selected.”
An integral part of the ArtCore model are the eight “Studio Habits of Mind,” which include: Develop craft, engage and persist, envision, express, observe, reflect, stretch and explore, and understand the arts community. The SHoMs are “derived from the real-life habits that artists and creators depend on to engage in meaningful work and be successful,” according to the inspiring teaching blog about ArtCore from the University of Oregon.
Corey said that ArtCore offers an opportunity for connection for kids who didn’t previously have that connection with school.
Betsy Wolfston and Katie Schuessler are the two artists that work with Oaklea Middle School. Wolfston is part of the OCF grant and Schuessler is part of the federal ArtCore grant. Wolfston works with the 5th and 6th graders on art education, and Schuessler works with the 7th and 8th graders on art integration.
Wolfston is a professional artist who specializes in public artworks. She said that it’s “time that art goes back into the schools,” and about five years ago she and three other women put a proposal together for OCF to help put a sustainable arts program together.
“How do we keep the arts alive in schools?” she said. “We can’t ask more of teachers, so can it integrate in? Teachers are inherently creative. It’s just taking the dust off and reminding them.”
She said that arts education is considered “a disposable subject,” but it’s one of the most important subjects because it takes critical thinking.
“Honestly,” she said. “I think it’s the solution to the future. It gives kids a taste of the real world and they seem to love it.”
Schuessler, who started with the program this year, said that art in general builds important life skills.
“Problem solving, critical thinking, asking yourself important questions, reflecting — these studio habits can transfer into life,” she said. “When students can bring art along with other classes, they’re accessing the right side of the brain. They can integrate that more into the left brain in a different way and deepen the mind.”
Schuessler started as a professional photographer, but when she had the chance to teach art she realized that was something she was passionate about, because she had a different way of connecting with the people around her. She was invited by the Lane Arts Council to apply for ArtCore, and she said that she’s passionate about keeping art in schools.
“Not only is it an opportunity to expose art,” she said, “but it’s a powerful tool for learning.”
Schuessler works with each teacher to determine what would be best to incorporate the art into. For Language Arts, students recreated an amulet that was important to a character in a novel. In science, students learned about chemical bonds and created a sculpture that represented those bonds.
“There are so many art forms. Some love tableau, some love painting and sculpture,” she said. “It’s interesting to tap into each medium and see who lights up with what.”
Although the program is drawing near a close, Wolfston said that it’s a privilege to help nurture a program and make it sustainable.
Corey said that he hopes the program will continue long after ArtCore leaves the school.
“We are super blessed. Very fortunate,” he said. “They’re outstanding people. The generosity and belief they have in students at Oaklea is pretty powerful.”