South Lake Tahoe elementary students benefit from art nonprofit
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — A chalk-covered Khloe Strauss, a Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School kindergartner, threw her hands up gleefully on Friday, Nov. 13, after completing a group poster.
“It’s so colorful,” she shouted.
Strauss’ experience was shared by dozens of other students on Friday as they participated in the Bringing Art To Schools (BATS) “Artists in Action” project.
BATS, which started in 2001, exposes elementary school students in the Lake Tahoe Unified School District to art, according to program director Krystal Long.
“Students get enrichment and exposure to different styles of art and art history,” Long said.
The magnet school, Sierra House Elementary School, Bijou Community School and Tahoe Valley Elementary School all participate in the program.
Some projects, like “Artists in Action,” allow kindergarten through second-grade students to interact with local artists.
The program is largely parent-driven, according to Long.
Parents spend time teaching art in a classroom, using lessons provided by the nonprofit that include lectures and hands-on projects.
Long signed on as director in December 2014, about four months after the El Dorado County Arts Council took over as its sponsor.
Student-produced artwork is displayed at the El Dorado County Library’s South Lake Tahoe branch on a rotating basis. Bijou Community School student artwork will be on display there until the middle of December.
Long said BATS relies mostly on grants, donations and volunteers to operate.
Lake Tahoe Educational Foundation recently provided a $1,200 grant for the “Artists in Action” project. Another $1,000 came from money raised by the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament in July.
Long added that she’s working to expand the program to South Tahoe Middle School. There are also plans to turn BATS into its own independent nonprofit.
Filling a gap
Long said BATS fills an important gap at the elementary school level that otherwise might be unavailable.
“I think it’s important to teach students art,” Long said. “It’s one way you can communicate and interact with children, and there are ways to connect art to math and writing.”
Christina Proctor, a parent who participated in some of the class-based programs when her children attended elementary school, agrees that the program fills a critical void.
“Without it, students don’t have much art education in the elementary school,” Proctor said. “Teachers try to work art into the lesson plan where appropriate, but it’s not really part of the curriculum.”
Her children are now attending either high school or middle school.
In contrast, South Tahoe Middle School and South Tahoe High School offer a number of art classes as electives.
Proctor benefited from an art program when she was a kid attending school in Indiana. However, based on her experience as a parent volunteer, art is usually the first thing to go during budget cuts.
“When my kids entered elementary school, art lessons were already gone and BATS was the only thing available,” Proctor said. “To me, not having an art program was a big deficit in education.”
Ryan Galles, principal at Sierra House Elementary School, said the program proved popular with his students.
“It gives students experience in different art genres and it shows them how to make something, from simple presentations to more detailed projects,” Galles said.
When Galles took over as principal in 2007, the school district focused largely on language arts and mathematics. After eight years as the school’s principal, Galles only expects the BATS program to expand.
“We’ve had a pretty robust program and really strong parent participation,” Galles said. “BATS has made art one of the biggest pieces of education in the school.”
He added that the program validates art as a possible career choice for students.
Artist Coco Foy, who helped with art projects at Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School on Friday, agrees.
Foy said the program reminded her of why she decided to become a full-time artist two years ago.
“The happiest time in my life is when I’m creating something,” Foy said. “I think sharing that experience with kids shows that they can become artists when they grow up.”
She added that BATS is also a strong example of a community program that benefits students.
“I think it’s important to show students that they can color outside the lines and be as creative as possible,” Foy said.
For more information on Bringing Art To Schools, visit http://www.batsart.org.