Today's post is by Kristin Walrod, a writer and creative writing teacher through Columbia Gorge Arts in Education (CGAIE). She is also an Arts Integration Facilitator for The Right Brain Initiative.
The right brain is the creative side, right? As parents and teachers we have seen creativity and the arts get pushed to the sidelines in our schools in favor of reading, writing, math, and packaged curriculum designed to improve test scores. Often, elementary school teachers have trouble finding time for art in their classrooms. In addition to lack of time, many new teachers grew up without art instruction themselves, making them less likely to feel confident incorporating the teaching, creating, or appreciation of art in their own classroom activities.
Launched in 2008, The Right Brain Initiative (managed by the Regional Arts & Culture Council) doesn’t believe that schools should be in an either/or situation with the arts. In fact they believe that in many cases the arts are uniquely helpful in teaching crucial skills our kids will need to face their future. These 21st century skills—critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication, and what Right Brain refers to as the “Fifth C” (a mesh of civic-mindedness, community and compassion)—are the focus of Right Brain residencies. Right Brain challenges its artists (a wide range of vetted artists in a variety mediums) to plan collaboratively with the classroom teachers in core subject areas. A visual artist in a math class? Think patterns. Need some new strategies to teach that fifth grade public speaking unit? Why not call upon actors from a local theater company? In this way, Right Brain facilitates meaningful interactions between professional artists, teachers, and their students.
A visiting artist can have a profound impact on students’ lives—beating on an African drum, taking photos with a professional’s camera, molding clay into a self-portrait—these experiences create lasting memories. But Right Brain also strives to leave the teachers and administrators with inspiration and new skills to use after the residency is over. To this end, they provide teachers and administrators with Professional Development with national arts integration leaders who demonstrate lesson plans and techniques that connect art and students’ essential learning goals.
The Right Brain Initiative is concerned with issues of equity and has a vision to give every k-8 student in the region access to the arts regardless of neighborhood, language, or income. The Initiative has been embraced by five school districts in the greater Portland area: Hillsboro, North Clackamas, Gresham-Barlow, Oregon Trail and Portland Public Schools, although the program is only in a handful of schools in each of its districts. Beach, Glencoe, Hayhurst, James John, Lewis, Markham, Rigler, Sitton, Whitman, Woodlawn, and Vestal are PPS Right Brain Schools. Interested in having your child’s school become a Right Brain School? Decisions about which schools to add to its roster are made using a variety of criteria, but requests by schools’ faculty and parents can make a difference. To find out more, visit the Right Brain’s very “right brain” website.