Three Santa Barbara County schools are being recognized for their arts programs as they receive the 2023 California Exemplary Arts Education Award, for which 19 schools throughout the state were selected this year.
This award is given to K-12 schools that offer at least three art disciplines during the regular school day that are equitable and accessible to all students.
“Congratulations to these 19 schools for their incredible commitment to arts programs, which can have significant positive effects on a student’s academic and personal life,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said while announcing the selected schools.
“Arts education boosts school attendance, academic achievement, and college attendance rates. Arts programs also improve school climate and promote higher self-esteem and social-emotional development for our students.”
The local schools being awarded this year include Cold Spring School in Montecito, Franklin Elementary School in Santa Barbara, and Los Berros Visual and Performing Arts Academy in Lompoc.
Cold Spring School Superintendent/Principal Amy Alzina emphasized the way the school’s art programs incorporate and connect other subjects its students are learning.
“Our secret sauce is how well our teachers collaborate with the classroom teacher to integrate so there’s not a disconnect between what they learn in the classroom and all the specialists,” Alzina said.
“It’s building time within the school day for teachers to collaborate and plan and be vulnerable about the standards that kids need support in.”
For example, first graders were drawing planets with chalk pastel in art class after they started learning about planets and their distance from the sun in science. In music class, kindergarteners were learning to recognize patterns using music and dance movements.
Another project involved sixth-graders creating an art piece — which is now displayed at the school — based on research projects about teen activists and their work.
“There’s a lot of emotional investment in the project, but at the same time, it’s a tremendous amount of technical skill, too — Illustrator, Photoshop, and they’re learning how to use iMovie, and research writing,” STEAM teacher Jean Gradias said. “So it was robust.”
Cold Spring School also has its own recording studio — which Alzina said she built for just $5,000 — that allows students to record their own music or create school songs.
A video that shows how Cold Spring School teachers use student data to collaborate on project-based learning can be found here.
At Franklin Elementary School, four subject-based academies are offered to fifth- and sixth-graders — visual arts, P.E., music, and dance.
With this program, students select one of the academies to commit to for the two years, for which classes take place twice a week for a total of 90 minutes per week, instead of the district model of 45 minutes per week.
Franklin Elementary School Assistant Principal Xochitl Tafoya said that there is a big focus on student selection — versus parent-selected classes — allowing students to choose to learn about something they are interested in or passionate about.
“Santa Barbara is a very artistic community and there’s a lot of great programs that happen in the secondary level within all of the high schools and the junior highs, which is really great, but sometimes not everybody has access to those things when they’re in seventh grade or eighth grade,” Tafoya said.
“So we’re just trying to close that gap and provide these pipelines and avenues of having these during the school day.”
Meanwhile, kindergarteners through fourth-graders have visual arts and music classes each week. Franklin Elementary is piloting its academy program, but Tafoya said it hopes to further expand the program to offer more academies for all grade levels.
“We’re really honored to have been selected,” Tafoya said. “This is kind of like a nice feather in our cap, so to speak, because we have finally created a program that, right now, seems to be successful and highly engaging for our students and really creates an opportunity for our students to really go deep on what they’re interested in.”
Los Berros Visual and Performing Arts Academy also offers several art domains for students to choose from — dance, media arts, music, theater, and visual arts — and connects the academic standards with the arts programs.
“We are very focused on utilizing the state art standards in context with the academic standards,” Los Berros Principal Megan Evans said. “What’s great is we really focus on the integration.”
Evans said that students begin choosing their electives in third grade, which rotate every trimester, and fourth- through sixth-graders participate in more intensive year-long electives.
Some of the classes offered for students at Los Berros include photography, film, ballroom dancing, animation and advanced animation, a news cast team, ukulele, and several others.
Evans added that the school’s theater program is working on its spring production of “Frozen Jr.”
Local artists are also often brought into the school, and each month there’s a new “artist of the month” that students learn about.
“We’re really proud of the program we offer here for our students,” Evans said. “We have a very inclusive, collaborative school community and that really ensures that our students have access. … All of our students, including our English learners and special education students, are involved — it really does make an impact on our student.”
All schools that were selected for the California Exemplary Arts Education Award will be honored and celebrated at a special ceremony in Anaheim this month.