Northwest NEWS

March 12, 2001



East Ridge Elementary students participating in creative dance class at A.S.A.P.
Deborah Stone/staff photo.

After school arts program provides creativity in action

by Deborah Stone
   Features Writer
   Recent Northshore School District budget cuts directly impacted the areas of music, physical education, dance and library services to children in most schools.
   In response to this situation, parents at one elementary school decided to take matters into their own hands by creating an after school arts program. Last spring, when the budget cuts were proposed, East Ridge Elementary parent Laurel McClellan spoke up in protest at school board meetings, hoping to prevent such action from being taken.
   "It's such a contradiction in our culture," comments McClellan. "The arts seem so valued in our society, yet they seem so undervalued in our school system. It seems like so often these programs are cut from budgets first, indicating that they are the most expendable programs. In other districts, these types of programs are never dropped from the curriculum as they are viewed as being important components in the education of a child."
   McClellan comes from Illinois where such programs are vital to the schools. "In many of the districts in Illinois, visual arts programs have been instituted to correspond with state standards," explains McClellan. "We don't have a visual arts curriculum here at the elementary level and yet there are specific Washington State Standards for the arts. Rumors have it that the WASL will have a section on it in 2006."
   After talking with other parents and following an information gathering survey to ascertain interest level for an after school arts enrichment program at East Ridge, McClellan found that many people shared similar views on the subject. A meeting to decide program goals and organizational details was held and A.S.A.P., After School Arts Program, was born.
   The program began last fall and is offered on Mondays, from 3:30-4:40 p.m., using existing classroom space at the school. A variety of different art experiences are available each eight-week session.
   Children are divided into two age groups and for each of the age groups, there are four classes.
   Parents met and brainstormed on class ideas and decided that this year each session should offer dance/movement in direct response to the district budget cuts, which had eliminated the dance/movement instruction from the school.
   Other courses brainstormed by the group ranged from drawing and sculpture to puppetry, improvisation, cartooning and even clowning. The committee's guiding factors for session choices depend on rankings from votes tabulated, feedback from participants and parents, and subcommittee research on professionals to teach the classes.
   "We want to make sure that our offerings are diverse and that they appeal to a mix of age and gender," explains McClellan. "For our current session, we have classes in creative dance, drawing/painting, crafting in 3-D and drama for grades K-3, and then for grades 4-6, we have dance, drama, art around the world and elements of design and pattern."
   Cost to parents is $40 per child per eight-week session, which averages out to a reasonable price of $5 per class per child (scholarships are also offered).
   According to McClellan, who functions as one of the program coordinators, the fees provide for a comfortable cushion to pay the instructors handsomely to come to the site and they also cover materials needed for each course.
   Participants sign up before each session and list their choices in a first, second and third format so that matches can be made according to highest preference possible. If there is great demand for a particular class, a lottery system is used to choose names.
   Parent volunteers help with the administrative duties of the program, as well as rotate in the classrooms, assisting the instructors when needed. At the conclusion of each session, an "informance" is held for parents to see students' work in performance oriented classes. Visual art projects are displayed around the school. Thus far, A.S.A.P. has been an overwhelming success with approximately 120-140 students participating in each session.
   "The response from parents, students and instructors has been very positive," comments McClellan. "We are delighted with how smoothly everything is going and we are very pleased with the quality of our instructors.
   "We haven't had any trouble attracting professionals to teach our classes. They seem to be happy with the pay, the environment, the students and the amount of freedom they have to design their courses. It's a win-win situation with a multitude of benefits for everyone."
   For the students, the program provides increased arts exposure and experimentation, contact with arts professionals in the community, hands-on use of special materials and techniques, outlets for creativity and self-expression and enrichment that carries over into other curriculum areas.
   Parents have the convenience of location, reasonable fees, a safe environment with low adult/child ratio (made possible through PTA volunteers) and the opportunity to give feedback on the program since it is administered by the PTA. School staff benefit by the ability to use the program to support curriculum and they are also encouraged to give feedback to shape and support the program.
   Those who donate their classroom space are given assurances that they will be used respectfully and left in tact each Monday.
   "This program, as well as being an incredible source of enrichment," says McClellan, "is also a great self-esteem builder in the children. When you walk in the classrooms, you can feel the positive energy. The kids are so into what they're doing and there's this sense of pride in them that's very rewarding to see."