What could a school achieve with a $280,000 arts grant over the next five years?
Hood River Middle School students and staff are about to find out. The school, in partnership with Arts in Education of the Gorge, is one of 18 programs statewide to be awarded the multi-year Oregon Community Foundation (OCF) Studio to Schools grant.
“The grants are reshaping arts in education across the state,” Arts in Education of the Gorge Executive Director Shelley Toon Lindberg said. “We’re lucky to be a part of it.”
The purpose of the grant is “to increase arts opportunities for underserved youth in grades K-8 and to support communities in strengthening their networks and capacity to offer year-round arts education,” according to OCF’s website (www.oregoncf.org).
It’s also a research project, said HRMS principal Brent Emmons. “The Oregon Community Foundation’s goal is to create a national model for increasing diversity and eliminating barriers in our public school’s music education program,” he said. “We are attempting to deeply embed music and the performing arts in the culture of Hood River.”
Emmons said the link between music education and academic success is well researched. “There is a very strong correlation between advanced academic achievement and music education,” he said. “We want this advantage for all our children in Hood River — not just those who can afford private lessons and instruments.”
At HRMS, the five-year project, called “Band Together: Music and Performing Arts for All,” will take every music, musical theater and choir program at the middle school and make it stronger, Lindberg explained, as well as at HRMS feeder elementary schools May Street, Westside and Cascade Locks.
Emmons described the program as one “erasing all barriers to participation in a music program, which has a lot of hidden costs.” He’s hopeful that, five years down the road, the school’s music programs will mirror its population.
“The ‘Band Together’ grant is all about creating equal access for children in the musical and preforming arts,” said Emmons. “We are especially interested in increasing participation of our Latino and low-income students in music education.”
Lindberg applied for the grant in December “with input from all our partners, including HRMS, Milagro Theatre, Columbia Gorge Orchestra Association, (and) Arts Educating consultant Deb Brzoska,” she said. “(Music specialists) Larry Wyatt and Rebecca Nederhiser were instrumental in helping us to identify the needs and develop the program. Mark Steighner was also very helpful and will continue in an advisory role.”
OCF visited HRMS in February, and in April, Arts in Education of the Gorge was notified it was selected to receive grant funding. Emmons, music specialist Rebecca Nederhiser, and parent DeLona Campos-Davis, will work with Lindberg to steer the project.
The first items purchased with the grant money were $15,000 in instruments, some of which are already being distributed at HRMS as part of the school’s “rental/loaner fleet,” said Lindberg. Other instruments — chimes, tubas and a piano — will remain at HRMS. Additionally, Westside, May Street and Cascade Locks elementary schools will receive support for instruments and classroom tools and equipment.
“We are very excited about how this grant has already allowed us to purchase instruments that can be loaned to our kids at almost no cost and the start of morning private music lessons available to kids from low-income families for little cost,” said Emmons.
Future plans include field trips (Folk Fest in Seattle for eighth graders, Oregon Symphony in Portland for elementary and middle school students), and a musical theater production of “Little Diego.”
“We are very excited to welcome the renowned Milagro Theatre, who will work with our kids on performing a bi-lingual theatrical performance on the artist Diego Rivera,” said Emmons.
Lindberg said a new musical theater production by Mark Steighner (who is currently writing the piece) will additionally be performed by students next year.
Funds will also be used to start a mariachi band, increase attendance to Larry Wyatt’s summer ukulele camps, and allow HRMS band students’ private lessons with Columbia Gorge Sinfonietta members before classes start each morning — also made possible by the new staggered start schedule.
Additionally, professional development and diversity training is on the docket for teachers district-wide, through Arts in Educations’ Art @ the Center Teacher Arts Institute, and in after-school professional development workshops, Lindberg added.