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Art In Focus At Schools
Reading, writing and arithmetic may be staples in every school day but some Escalon elementary schools are expanding the curriculum to include creativity.

Taking some time to focus on art and music - which in past years had also been part of the regular school day at the elementary level - students in Collegeville and Farmington are discovering their inner artists. And the payoff is showing.

"In meeting with parents at various conferences, parent teacher gatherings, they've really shared a desire to have a balanced educational program," Principal Bob Amato said. "Many feel the arts are another whole avenue of expression and intelligence and we agree with that."

Amato serves as principal for both outlying rural campuses, where art is currently offered to all classes one day a week at Collegeville and an after school music club is drawing students in at Farmington. For the spring semester, the two schools will trade, with art at Farmington and the music club at Collegeville.

More than just coloring or picking up an instrument to strum a few bars, Amato said the new courses build on what the students are already learning.

"Math, language and reading skills can be reinforced with standards based instruction in the arts," he explained.

Coming on board to teach art this semester at Collegeville is area resident Lucy Wright Rivers, who spends some time on the campus each afternoon working with classes.

Amato said funding for the program came through the state, which did have some money for schools to offer enrichment classes, and was used to purchase a curriculum that Rivers is putting into place.

"They build upon each other," Amato said of the art lessons, starting with the most basic instruction at the kindergarten level up to the more advanced projects and skill sets for the upper grades.

Wright Rivers said she is excited to be a part of the new program.

"Mr. Amato came to me, he and the parents have been really wanting to add an art program of some kind," Wright Rivers said. "I have one hour a day, the different classes rotate through, kindergarten through fifth."

One week is enough to meet with all classes at Collegeville, since there are a couple of combined classes, so all students enjoy the hour of art instruction and creative expression one day a week.

"The way it was expressed to me, this is to give the kids a chance to express themselves in a way that's not just English and math," Wright Rivers said. "Today, they spend so much time on computers ... some don't even have the chance to cut up paper."

In fact, some of the youngest students needed help learning how to hold and cut with scissors, she said.

A recent art lesson for fourth grade students dealt with textures, and Wright Rivers brought some of her own Central American textiles in to share as a way of providing a visual aid to accent the instruction.

"They have repeated lines and bright colors," she explained.

A late October project also saw the students making their own papier-mâché masks, decorating them with a splash of color.

In addition to the daily art class, Wright Rivers stays after school two days a week for the new after school art club.

Originally, it was slated for a one day a week event.

"We had such an enthusiastic response, we have to do half on Tuesdays and half on Thursdays," she said of having several members in the club, which meets from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Amato said the music club is overseen by Collegeville second grade teacher Zach Silver, who right now is at Farmington after school for an hour to teach music.

"We have 40 Collegeville kids staying after school for art, there are 40 kids for Mr. Silver's music club ... it's testimony to the desire that is there," Amato said of expanding the students' artistic horizons.

Wright Rivers said she considers herself somewhat of "an artist in residence" for the outlying schools.

"I'm more an artist than a teacher," she said. "What I like best is to see what they (students) come up with. Since kids don't have this entrenched idea of what art is, they come up with come very creative things."

Teachers at Collegeville have also been very supportive, said Wright Rivers, staying with their classes during the art lesson and assisting where they can.

"It's the last period of the day," Wright Rivers added of when she gets to meet with students. "It's nice to wrap it up with art."

Amato said giving kids another way to express themselves is important, especially when there is such a focus on book learning, test taking and meeting state standards.

"We want kids to enjoy themselves," he said of rounding out the school experience, adding that Wright Rivers is a perfect fit for the kids. "She's very patient and creative, an experienced artist."

Collegeville students started the art curriculum by doing self-portraits, many of which are still on display in the art room. Wright Rivers said she will have them do another one at the end of the semester, comparing the first and last portraits to see how their perception of art and how they view themselves has changed over the course of the class.

"We're pretty excited to have this opportunity," Amato added of offering both art and music. "These things come and go ... we're going."