Editor’s Note: This is the third in an occasional, several-part series looking at arts education in Santa Clarita Valley school districts.
A recent countywide survey from the Los Angeles County Arts Education Collective found that nearly every school in Los Angeles County, and every school in the Santa Clarita Valley, offers its students some kind of arts instruction.
Completed over the course of two years, the survey was completed by 924 schools in 78 districts, including all 15 schools in the Saugus Union School District, and evaluated the quality and quantity of arts education at all grade levels in Los Angeles County’s public schools.
“We found that, in general, the quantity of arts education is higher at the elementary level, while the quality of arts instruction is higher at the secondary level,” the survey read.
In the Saugus district, administrators and educators are working to consistently improve their arts education programs by offering students a variety of educational options and integrating arts into the classroom environment.
“From my mind’s eye, education is the greatest equalizer in the world. The better educated people are, the more opportunities they have available to them and that’s our job,” Superintendent Joan Lucid told The Signal. “Our job is to make sure that child can read, that child can do math, that child understands the civic process, that child has the understanding of what it means to be a scientist and then also has an appreciation for the arts.”
Of the Saugus district’s 15 schools, 87 percent offer music, 73 percent offer visual arts, 40 percent offer dance, 33 percent offer theater and 13 percent offer media arts, according to the survey.
The district’s schools also provide their students with after school options, with 53 percent offering after school music, 47 percent offering visual arts, 33 percent offering theater and 13 percent offering dance.
To provide arts instruction to students at every school site, the Saugus district employs two music and arts Teachers on Special Assignment (TOSAs) who attend arts education trainings, lead after school chorus lessons and daily music instruction, provide staff with professional development and give demonstration lessons to teachers.
“The way our district is structured is that we have two music and arts integration TOSAs and we work in our Title 1 and schools with underserved populations,” art and music TOSA Melissa Valencia said. “Our district’s overarching goal is to provide equity in all schools for arts education.”
Overall, the Saugus district has 3.5 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) music instructors, 1 FTE dance instructor, 1 FTE theatre instructor and 0.2 FTE media arts instructors.
These teachers use ongoing training through partnership organizations like the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to hone their professional skills in the arts and expand arts education in the classroom.
“A big program in the district is the Kennedy Center Partners in Education program, so we have a lot of teachers involved in that professional development of five to six workshops a year,” Valencia said. “That includes drama, dance, music and various art forms so teachers can build capacity and are able to provide students with arts experiences in their own classrooms.”
Schools in the district also work with 10 Community arts Partners, or teaching artists, which provide art instruction to schools. Other schools, which receive funding from their PTAs or PTOs, partner with organizations like the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center at College of the Canyons, Los Angeles Music Center, Los Angeles Opera and California institute of the Arts.
The district also uses grants to fund new programs like hip-hop dance instruction for sixth-grade students, which is currently funded by a grant from the Los Angeles County Arts Education Collective.
“Realizing that art experiences and instruction requires ‘over and above’ funding sources, we are always exploring additional grants and programs as they become available,” Valencia said.
Through these various offerings, students have reaped the programs’ benefits as the Saugus district works to provide equitable experiences to all children throughout the district.
“Teachers have told me of students who struggle behaviorally or academically and when we bring art instruction in it changes that student,” Valencia said. “I think the studies out there show how music and arts affects literacy and fluency and reading.”
Eventually, the Saugus district would like to provide unique arts experiences for students of all grade levels so they receive instruction in different art forms as they move from transitional kindergarten to sixth grade.
“Our goal, eventually, is to have it structured where all students at each grade level have a different arts education experience… We’re hoping through grants and other means to make it happen,” Valencia said. “Our board is extremely supportive of continuing and perpetuating arts in the district, they do anything they can do to support us.”
This structured arts education program would give students access to “developmentally appropriate arts education experiences” in vocal and instrumental music, theater and drama, other dance forms like folk dancing, media arts and moviemaking and visual arts using varied media.
“It is the district’s hope to continue to be open to new ideas in arts education as our teaching artists share their own creative vision,” Valencia said.
To achieve this goal, leaders in the Saugus district plan to continue working with the Arts Education Collective to expand its grant requests with the agency.
“We are also in the process of working with the L.A. Music Center and developing an arts integration opportunity for our Title 1 schools,” Valencia said. “The intent is to provide equitable experiences to students throughout the district.”
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