Monday, November 29, 2021
Nov. 29, 2021

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Arts program leads the way as volunteers return to Evergreen schools

By , Columbian staff writer
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2 Photos
Karin Rivera, Art Discovery's coordinator, helps to put an art project together with a young student. The program teaches students a variety of art mediums and how to engage with them as a form of expression and stress release.
Karin Rivera, Art Discovery's coordinator, helps to put an art project together with a young student. The program teaches students a variety of art mediums and how to engage with them as a form of expression and stress release. (Aaron Wintersong) Photo Gallery

Volunteers returned to the classroom at Sunset Elementary School on Wednesday for one of the first times since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of those volunteers were from Art Discovery, a program that provides teachers with art class curricula and hosts monthly art sessions for students in 22 elementary schools across the district.

Art Discovery had gone remote during the pandemic, but its volunteers were briefly allowed back in schools at the start of the school year before the district changed its policy and kept volunteers out of schools until this week.

Art and other elective programs fell to the wayside during remote education. Volunteers still developed and shared art curricula with teachers, but many students didn’t have the supplies at home to create the kinds of projects they would otherwise be doing in schools.

“Every student has the thing that keeps them coming to school. For a lot of kids, that’s art,” said Karin Rivera, Art Discovery’s coordinator. “During the pandemic, that just went away. The reality is, you had young kids at home with little to no support and little or no supplies.”

These kinds of hands-on activities and classes, she said, are often just as critical to the development of critical-thinking skills as any other class. Volunteers assemble packets that introduce students to various eras and media of art, from something as basic as the color wheel to working with clay and sculpting.

“For some kids who struggle in other areas, art helps them feel good about the day,” said Elyse Iyer, another Art Discovery volunteer who often works at Fisher’s Landing Elementary School. “Art is a release, it helps regulate emotions.”

Volunteers say that young students are often so excited about the program that their faces light up when they see Rivera, Iyer or other volunteers in the hallways of their schools.

“Kids treat you like a rock star, most of them really love doing art,” Iyer said.

While the budgets of middle and high schools often allow for a wider array of art classes, those same resources typically are far more limited in elementary schools.

Volunteers like Rivera and Iyer not only lead the classes — they’re often responsible for gathering the supplies and resources necessary to maintain art and music programs for young students.

Another side effect of the pandemic, they said, is a lack of engagement and membership within these parent-teacher organizations, which end up providing donations that keep those programs alive.

“We haven’t had any parent group activity in two years, so funding is really short. And we haven’t had the opportunities to recruit very many people,” Rivera said.

On Oct. 20, Evergreen Public Schools officially marked a staggered return for volunteers in schools, pending applications, background checks and proof of vaccination against COVID-19. Rivera hopes the return will help not just Art Discovery and other elective programs, but teachers altogether.

“Rebuilding, rebuilding, rebuilding,” Rivera said. “That’s our motto for this year.”

Behind the scenes, parent volunteers spend time taking the load off teachers by doing things such as organizing files, cutting papers and printing worksheets. As the program returned to Sunset, Art Discovery revealed how volunteers not only allow for a more broad, hands-on education for young students, but they provide in-person help for teachers burdened by a difficult transition to and from remote instruction.

“Volunteers are everything,” Rivera said. “Until I was a parent, I really didn’t know just how much was organized and done by parent groups.”

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