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Arts Are How We Roll

Noe Tanigawa
Noe Tanigawa
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Noe Tanigawa
Credit Noe Tanigawa
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Mia with the mandala she made recently. The students know quite a bit about the customs and procedures used for Tibetan and other sand mandalas!

   The Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, Jane Chu, has been in Hawai‘i checking on support for the arts in our state.  Along with grants to specific arts and individuals, the NEA is also developing cross discipline learning strategies using the arts.  HPR’sNoeTanigawa  visited Kalihi Kai Elementary for a look at how that works.

Turnaround Arts works with the lowest performing schools in 27 districts in the U.S., including Hawai‘i. These schools, where English is often a second language, are given strategies and training to integrate art holistically into the curriculum.  5th grader Precious says her parents are glad she’s gotten off her phone and is asking for crayons and color pencils for a change.   Her attitude toward art was pretty much, “ignore.”

However, last September, Kalihi Kai elementary started implementing the Turnaround Arts curriculum. Now Precious and her compadres can work in the style and spirit of Kandinsky, they’ve studied Constructivism and the tenets of abstraction!  Brayden noted how working with music enhanced his drawing experience. 

Precious says things feel different on campus, “because you can feel like positive energy around, and that positive energy is really from the art that we do.”

Mia says when they’re working, she sometimes hears, “Oh this isn’t going to be good, I don’t like how this is going to turn out, but then at the end it actually turns out nice.”  Brayden says, “People don’t really like to speak up but when they’re in the art class people speak about their feelings, tell us what they’re doing in their picture.” 

Noe Tanigawa
Credit Noe Tanigawa
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Kerem Esteban. Special Education teacher at Kalihi Kai, says his colleagues are genuinely pleased with developments resulting from the Turnaround Arts program.

  Kerem Esteban is a Special Education teacher at Kalihi Kai where they’ve been implementing specific tactics for the over 50% of students who do not speak English.  He says Turnaround Arts tactics adding movement and activities somehow unlocked that curriculum for the students.

“Scores are getting better.  What they’re reading, what they hear, they’re putting into their bodies and being able to connect to it in a more kinesthetic type of way,” says Esteban.

For children dealing with poverty, a foreign culture, busy parents and not speaking English, music, movement, and drawing can even out the playing field.  A little.

Tehani says, “There’s more people raising their hands, and sharing each others’ artwork, so it’s just like this communicating thing that is growing in progress. “

Esteban says it’s noticeable in the students faces, “reaching for, moving into the lessons, listening to a story even deeper, looking at pictures in a whole different way.”

Kalihi Kai’s principal, Laura Vines, marvels at developments in just the second semester of the Turnaround Arts program.  “…and the teachers, once they see kids rise to that higher expectation, it’s like, wow, this works, so they want to do it more.  Lei and Rae can attest to the huge shift in teacher engagement.”

Jane Chu is the Chair of the National Endowment   for the Arts, now in its 50th year of making art a part of life in America.  She says the arts are not just one thing, they’re an approach, a process that enriches any endeavor:

“You start seeing these transformational changes in people as a result of the arts and pretty soon, it’s just going to pop into place and somebody’s going to say “Yeah we all get it!” and we all win when that happens.”

So far so good at Kalihi Kai Elementary.

Michelle Obama:  “Arts education isn’t something we add on after we’ve achieved other priorities like raising test scores and getting kids into college. It’s actually critical for achieving those priorities in the first place. That’s what the Turnaround Arts program is all about.”

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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