During COVID-19 most people think the California Center for the Arts, Escondido is shut down with not much happening. However, one program continues to function at full speed and has even accelerated to meet the challenges caused for children by the pandemic. That is the Center’s educational program.
The Center’s Executive Director Jerry Van Leeuwen told The Times-Advocate, “The general community doesn’t have a good idea of what we do [for education.]”
To find out, we talked to Sherehe Hollins, director of education for the Center. The Center oversees several educational programs. Hollins is in charge of all of them. This is her sixth year in that role.
The Center partners with Blindspot Collective (theater), Outside the Lens, (photography) and ArtReach (visual arts). All are based in Central County but serve all of San Diego County.
The programs are My Story Literacy Through the Arts – Photography/ Theater; Taste of the Arts – Photography/ Theater/ Visual Art; Arts Discovery – Photography/ Theater/ Visual Art; Center Stage; Arts Integration SMUSD—Visual Art; SMUSD Videos on Demand; Master Artist Series; Taste of the Arts JCCS – Photography/ Theater/ Visual Art.
They partner with contractors due to how many schools they serve. “If teachers call in sick there is no one to replace them,” said Hollins. “We have been able to focus on what we found to be the strongest arts organizations without having to alter our programs [from past years.]”
One program they DID have to change was dance, because of the nature of virtual media. But they are continuing to provide materials to schools on both music and dance.
My Story Literacy Through the Arts, is a 16-week program employing photography and theater for 4th and 5th graders at five schools and eight classrooms in the Escondido Union School District (EUSD): Rose, Felicita, Oak Hill, Farr, Conway and six classes at Epiphany Prep Charter. It is funded by a CAC Artists in School Grant of $18,000.
It was first introduced 15 years ago and involves “arts integration.” In 4th grade they teach California history, which the program does through theater.
“It takes core content, the academic subject and uses arts to teach that subject,” said Hollins. “They learn history through working as an ensemble, through role playing. We do have a lot of students struggling with academic retention. When you perform there is greater retention. We have a large demographic of ESL students and they are being more demonstrative and acting it out with this program.”
In the fifth grade, it teaches English language arts through photography. “If they are doing a unit on poetry the students will do a poem reflecting on the things in their community that they identify with and then do a photo shoot. Say of their favorite street or their community park or a picture of their house,” said Hollins.
The students do different writing assignments and projects. “One teacher wanted to focus on the environment. So they did a project on why it is important to be responsible for our neighborhoods and pick up trash and then did a writing piece,” said Hollins.
In a normal year, 5th graders’ works are highlighted by an exhibition at the Center’s museum. COVID made that impossible this year. “In the world with virtual learning we do a website to see samples of students’ work. For 4th grade it is a live theater performance via Zoom,” she said. The students are part of full distance learning from their homes.
Taste of the Arts, is a 16-week program of photography, theater and visual arts for grades 2-5. The 10 EUSD schools participating are Orange Glen; Conway; Rose; Central; Glen View; Rock Springs; Farr; Pioneer; Juniper; Oak Hill plus Epiphany Prep Charter School and several schools from the San Marcos district.
It includes two exhibitions (online) funded by a CAC Youth Arts in Action Grant of $20,000 and a $5,000 Masserini Grant.
Arts Discovery is a one-day workshop of photography, theater and visual arts involving all 23 EUSD schools plus Epiphany Prep Charter and the Vista Academy for Visual & Performing Arts in grades 2-8.
Hollins explained, “We ask the classroom teacher if they want photo, theater or visual art and ask ‘Do you want it tied to something in your curriculum or focused on your discipline?’ One teacher requested a photography workshop around the book ‘Esperanza Rising.” During the one hour workshop, they showed how to use photography and tied it to the novel they were studying. Two students used photography to produce a diptych—two images together—to tell the story.
This year they are serving 18,000 students, more than ever before. One reason, said Hollins, is accessibility. “We didn’t always have the time to go into each classroom in the past. But because everything is online we serve a broader audience. Schools provide one-to-one iPads, so the kids take photos with their IPads.”
So, this is an instance of distance learning facilitating a program.
“Teachers even see it as a greater need because students are used to the monotony of Zoom, so they are looking for more engaging activities, so we have higher demand this year,” she said.
Center Stage is the oldest program offered. It is aimed at EUSD’s K-8 population, and several other area districts and schools. It also serves the Juvenile Court system. It includes “Walks of Life,” an audio play for 6th-12th grade; Lit, blending musical, folklore and the Hero’s Journal for kids in grades K-3; “Safa’s Story,” a play centered on cultural inclusion and building compassion for grades 4-7 and video recording, plus an optional 1-3 day workshop. It is funded by the CAC Arts Exposure Grant ($9,000) and Roden Fund ($4,000) grant.
“This is a school assembly show,” said Hollins. “We offer on campus productions in our dinner theater, as close as possible connected to the curriculum. One year we brought in a play that focused on The Holocaust. This year we are offering a few different options.”
They record the play itself and then have teaching artists show scenes and lead discussions of what they saw, and use break out classes.
Arts Integration SMUSD, is a 16-week program for San Marcus Unified School District; as is SMUSD Videos on Demand. Similar to My Story, this visual arts program is tailored for each teacher. CCAE’s art partners sends arts kits to each student.
“It’s nice to get a little gift that they can keep for themselves,” said Hollins.
SMUSD Videos on Demand creates a video package where K-5 students engage independently. One is Art around the World. In another lesson they are in Europe or Asia. Two sets of videos are distributed to all the students.
The Master Artist Series is done in with the Step Beyond program based at the CCAE campus. It is a Master Class for ages 9-15, in Native American Storytelling, West African Drumming, Culturally Inclusive Theater, Irish Fiddling & Step Dancing. It is funded by a NEA ArtWorks Grant of $10,000.
“We needed to tell the story of art through a cultural lens and how it has influenced people in America,” said Hollins. “We have worked with a Step Beyond before.” They were able to send a drumming “kit” to the students—which consisted of sticks to use with buckets.
Taste of the Arts JCCS involves 6-12 graders in the Juvenile court and community schools. The programs are designed for credit recovery. The three student exhibitions are funded by CAC Jump Starts Grant of $47,500.
Whether they will return to the classroom in the school year 2021-22 is up the air, as is so much in this world of COVID-19. “There is so much uncertainty. We said we were prepared to go on campus since that is the way we are used to working, if and when the schools allow it,” said Hollins.
The programs have generated an enthusiastic response. Sharon Scott-Gonzalez, arts magnet coordinator, Vista Academy of Visual & Performing Arts, wrote: “I want to express our appreciation for the amazing photography workshops that our fourth grader students and their teachers were able to participate in today. The presenters were so knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and caring with our students and our students were very engaged in both the two virtual classes and one on-campus class. I was able to observe some talented photographers in our fourth grade classes and I’m sure that the students will use their learning from today’s workshop through their ‘How we express ourselves’ unit in our International Baccalaureate program and in the future. Thank you so much to Outside the Lens, Arts Discovery, and the Center for the Arts in Escondido for this incredible opportunity!”
An Oak Hill 5th grade teacher praised the theatrical program: “In three hours, you and Blindspot Collective stirred their hearts deeply and brought forth their sense of social responsibility coupled with steps of action that can help them discover their power and voice for kindness and justice. It’s been an education for all of us.”
Van Leeuwen said that with COVID forcing programs to adjust how they engage students, “This new way to bring arts education has been delightful to sustain our mission, to customize these things. It’s been a lot of work to be fluid with all of this stuff. When you see these testimonials, especially from kids who have a new way of expressing themselves and deal with some of their issues, is really rewarding.”