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The Right Brain Initiative in Our Schools

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.

Sitton Elementary photo by Zac Goodwin, courtesy of Right Brain InitiativeLaunched 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

Reader Comments (3)

I am so glad you are sharing the Right Brain Initiative story! I'm a big fan of this organization and have been following them over the past year. RACC is a great resource in our community!

February 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen Barth

Why did neither the principal nor the arts coordinator at Glencoe know what I was talking about when I asked about this program?

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

Thanks for mentioning this. I'm not sure why the program was not identified properly--maybe it was semantics? But Glencoe staff and principal have been very involved and supportive of their Right Brain residencies. This year all students in grades K-5 at Glencoe Elementary worked with movement specialist Jan Abramovitz in a multi-day residency in November and December 2011.

The fourth graders did a project with Jan Abramovitz connecting movement (kinesthetic learning) to mathematical principles in order to help students stay focused in class and to help better understand the ideas behind math.
Other grades may have done the same thing, or addressed other learning goals, depending on the teachers.

Glencoe chose Jan Abramovitz as their Right Brain residency artist last year as well (2010-11 school year). It may be that the arts coordinator you spoke to is covering other school art projects? Right Brain provides a facilitator for their residencies at Glencoe from their own staff.

I hope this clears some of it up. I'm glad you asked about the program! I believe that involvement in our schools is key to their success. Let me know if you'd like more information. You can also learn more about Jan Abramovitiz by going to the Right Brain website, and looking for him under "Artist Roster":

April 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristin Walrod

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