Alpine District is one of the state's demonstration districts that has taken art to its heart in a big way. The district now has 16 model sites and plans ultimately to expand the program to all 30 elementary schools and its secondary schools.
A strong tradition of arts support in Utah County, including the Springville gallery, American Fork Pageant of the Arts and arts emphasis at Brigham Young University, created a natural springboard for the public schools, says Teresa Corry, Alpine District arts coordinator.Strong support at the district level also has played a role. Assistant Superintendent Brian Page expressed the belief that "Art is basic to humanity. It brings out the finer things in us and helps us to communicate our inner feelings."
In a practical sense, he said, arts can help learning in all areas. "When information is tied to an artistic experience, it is retained. It becomes more relevant. I want to see us integrate arts as a vehicle for all teaching. It has been viewed as a separate subject, but we ought not to think of it in those terms. It is part of humanity. Development of specific artistic talents is a separate thing."
He has been deeply involved in creating a computerized system to alert teachers to potential resources for teaching art, including the National Art Gallery. The district expects to pilot the materials in several of its own schools, then make it available to other Utah schools before marketing it outside the state. "We expect quite a market," Page said.
The arts emphasis in Alpine's model schools is immediately apparent. At Northridge Elementary School, for instance, a sign above an exhibit space in the extry proclaims the fact: "We are an Arts in Education School." Hallways and classrooms throughout the school enlarge on the theme. The standard children's art displays at Northridge are above the standard. They not only provide a showcase for the children's work, but describe the techniques used to produce them.
Throughout the school, children are immersed in the arts.
In a first grade class, small students are parroting terms such as "surrealism," talking about them and learning to recognize works of the great surrealist masters.
Down the hall, third graders are looking closely at two of their classmates-turned-models who are perched on chairs atop tables to provide a good view. They are learning by observation and with the help of their teacher, Sonja Rasband, that the human arm is not a crescent, but two rectangles overlapped at the joint.
Replicas of works by Cezanne and Michelangelo decorate the room.
"We are giving children an edge - skills to appreciate as well as skills to cope," Rasband said.
Groups of students in Dorothy Foster's sixth grade class assume down-west characterizations as they dramatize a literature lesson on Pecos Bill. Drawls drip as they take on the story's characters. The students also learn from writing their own stories and their teacher reads to them to pique their interest in a variety of litary forms.
Take another turn of the hallway, and there is a class of second graders whooping it up cannibal-style, performing an unsteady African dance with interlocked legs (which seldom stay that way as they bob around) and laughing while they learn rhythym. Al Huish, a teacher who really gets into the spirit of his work, swaps his "jungle band" of rhythm instrument players, "braids legs" for a new dance group, and they're off on another wild and wacky experiment in music.
"You need to be better cannibals," he encourages the youngsters. "Imagine that your principal is boiling in a pot."
Northridge was fortunate in having teachers on its staff who could be enlisted as arts specialists - and they were happy for the opportunity, said Gay Alldredge, a specialist for grades one through three. It allows them to concentrate on areas for which they are trained and where their interests lie.
Parents are excited about the arts emphasis and the community, including local businesses, has been enlisted as well, said Principal Bruce Farrer. A music synthesizer was partially funded by the PTA.
"We're composing our own music," said Huish. The children developed a commercial - "Pepsi fought the battle of cherry Coke." They wrote a school song and joyfully belt it out for any visitors that happen along. The school has a band and helps support a district orchestra for children.
Brigham Young University students volunteer time that saves thousands of dollars, Farrer said. Such a volunteer is in the gymnasium with a gaggle of balloon-bopping children who don't know they're really learning movement.
Northridge isn't the only Alpine District school up to its ears in arts. At Sharon Elementary, a visiting artist, Bri Matheson, is intriguing third graders with an unexpected art form. They are creating a fascinating sculpture from sticks and wire.
"See how good that looks?" he encourages a youngster balancing a new stick in a strategic location.
"It's something I would never have thought of," said teacher Marylin Neubert.
In the school library, a visiting art exhibit, "Animals, Animals" decorates the walls and student art work is spotlighted in the school entry.
Hillcrest Principal Gary Seastrand also is fully converted to the value of arts in his school. "Fun things have happened as we've become excited about the arts," he said.
He didn't need to be converted, he said, but he did need money. The arts grant the school received allowed him to pursue ideas he already had about the arts. A resource library was initiated. A committee of teachers and parents was created and the ideas started flowing. A parent volunteer was enlisted in each of the arts areas.
"We knew these resources were there. The grant gave us the impetus to pull them together," Seastrand said. At his first meeting for teachers, he was surprised to find 12 of them there voluntarily, eager to participate.
A variety of activities have been sponsored, including bringing Polynesian dancers and junior high school Shakespearean thespians to school. A drama club with 45 student members meets twice a week.
"We're finding some talent. The kids have things to be excited about."
The school's PTA caught the bug and bought a stereo system to enhance the arts program.
The arts emphasis culminated with a festival last spring. For an entire day, the arts were front and center as the school, its patrons and the broader community participated. Children performed and exhibited their works.n
"It was worth the whole thing when I saw a shy child that I'd never seen look up, singing away and proud of his performance," Seastrand said. A donation of $3,000 by a pleased area resident was more frosting on the cake. "It has given us a strong sense of vision, identifying what's important for children. We're moving in a positive direction. We care about involving parents and others," he said. The festival will be an annual affair at the school.
Cascade Elementary is another school where works by Jan Vermeer, J.M.W. Turner, August Renoir and Claude Monet provide children with visual contact with the arts.
And they aren't all in Lori Miller's art room. In a classroom where math and other core subjects are taught, there is a Degas print.
A custodial office was taken over to store art supplies, said Sandra Chatterley, the school's arts coordinator. A student gallery showcases outstanding art work by the children.
The rewards come from both directions, Miller said. The enthusiasm the children show for the arts makes teaching easier.
"It's fun to be a teacher in a classroom where children want to be."