Carolyn Hay, a teacher at Los Berros Visual & Performing Arts Academy in Lompoc, helps a girl add her handprint to a new school mural during an open house Friday. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk)

With one hand covered in a thick layer of green or yellow paint, teachers and students put their handprints Friday on a new mural celebrating a major transformation at Los Berros Elementary School in the hills above Lompoc.

This year will be the first for Los Berros Visual & Performing Arts Academy, marking the campus’ transition to a school where music and more will play a key role throughout the day’s lessons.

The Lompoc Unified School District campus in the Mission Hills neighborhood previewed the new year, which officially starts Tuesday, by holding an open house Friday evening with art, music and dance demonstrations.






In addition to face painting, students at the event were encouraged to add their hands to the new mural.

“Next week, we want all the kids to be on it, so we’re going to do more colors and get all the student body on it,” said Marna Ford, one of two teachers overseeing the creation of the mural Friday.

She  has worked for the district for 20 years but will mark her first at Los Berros, where she intends to put her art background to use.

“This is the start of a new venture,” the first-grade teacher added. “It’s exciting.”

Once covered in colorful handprints symbolizing branches on the purple tree, the mural will be installed in the corner garden by the office.

“This is right up my alley,” said Ford, noting research shows that incorporating arts into the classroom boosts attendance.

Principal Heather Anderson, who is starting her second year at Los Berros, said the school’s administrators, teachers and parents launched the transformation last year with the district’s support.

“We strongly believe and feel that it’s going to make a huge difference for our students in preparing them for being critical thinkers, creative communicators — all the important things we’re working on right now in education,” she said.

Marna Ford, a teacher at Los Berros Visual & Performing Arts Academy, applies paint to the hand of Lincoln Biolley, 6, so he can add his handprint to the school’s new mural.

Marna Ford, a teacher at Los Berros Visual & Performing Arts Academy, applies paint to the hand of Lincoln Biolley, 6, so he can add his handprint to the school’s new mural. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk)

“We feel like it’s integral, that they aren’t going to become thinking, productive members of society without that foundation, and there’s lots of research to support that.”

Anderson added that Los Berros’ plan is based on “turnaround arts schools” that believe integrated arts lessons make a difference for the students academically and emotionally, leading them to be more successful individuals in life.

While it has an arts focus, Los Berros will still remain a neighborhood school serving the older community outside Lompoc, she said.

In crafting future plans for Los Berros, Anderson said officials decided on arts after noticing a void, especially for the community dubbed “The City of Arts and Flowers.”

“There’s a huge arts community here,” she said. “Since we started talking about this … so many people are coming and offering support, giving ideas, wanting to be involved, which is just amazing.”

Anderson recalled explaining the concept to her husband, who said it sounded like lessons when he was in school.

“I don’t think people on the whole realize how much the arts has suffered,” she said, noting that many California school districts haven’t taught instrumental music for years.

Anderson estimated Los Berros will have 430 students, slightly higher than the 380 last year.

To help the transition, she and five teachers attended a workshop to learn how to incorporate arts in everyday lessons such as English and mathematics.

In addition to regular lessons, kindergartners through second-graders will have two types of arts lessons each week.

Third- through sixth-graders can select different electives, listed on the school website, including orchestra, dance, choir, theater, band, creative writing, art and Legos four days a week.

Electives will be taught by existing staff, for the most part. For instance, two teachers with a dance background will handle those classes. A Cabrillo High School band instructor will teach a class at Los Berros.

Donations of musical instruments are welcomed since the school has not received addition money. Instead it reallocated funding to buy supplies, such as sheet music and music stands.

“We have had a few donations,” Anderson said. “The more we have the better.”

She said officials want to focus on the school day initially, but eventually expect to added art-themed after-school programs, too.

Some teachers from last year chose to move to other schools. With the normal transition that happens each year, Los Berros will start the 2015-2016 session with seven new teachers.

“We’re all really committed,” she said. “Everyone’s on board.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.