Envisioning the Future with Avenal Elementary

Here at Turnaround Arts: California, we host regular professional development (PD) for teachers across our 17 schools. This is because we know that increasing the use of the arts as a learning and engagement tool increases the confidence and academic success of our students.

During our latest PD adventure, we partnered with P.S. ARTS to host an interactive training with the teachers of Avenal Elementary School. P.S. ARTS’ Darryl King, who serves seven Turnaround Arts: California schools as a Regional Coach, shared:

“At the heart of the arts, is love. P.S. ARTS believes that differentiating learning opportunities for teachers is how we communicate that love and hold space for educators to develop as committed practitioners of the arts. It is our unique ability to customize our coaching strategies, from teacher training, to one-on-one mentoring, to match the culture and needs of each individual school.”

We customized our latest teacher workshop by starting with dance. We like to boogie and we love to amp up our energy for the learning ahead.

At various dancing intervals – we paused the music and asked teachers to pair up for some introductory dialogue.

We asked them a few questions:

  • What was your school like before Turnaround Arts?
  • What did it feel like or look like?
  • How is your school improving through Turnaround Arts?
  • What does that feel like or look like?

Our final prompt:

  • What one word would you use to describe where you see your arts-rich school of the future? Create a tableau — a frozen group picture — demonstrating it.

One of our favorite tableaus represented strength.

Our teachers see their future arts-rich school as strong and powerful.

Principal Blanca Rodriguez knows why. 

“Teachers at Avenal Elementary School benefit greatly from these Turnaround Arts: California workshops. They get hands-on experience by trying techniques with their peers. They have the opportunity to ask questions for clarity and gain feedback on what they have already begun to implement in their classrooms.”

In their fourth year as a Turnaround Arts school, Avenal Elementary boasts some of  the highest annual growth rate in student test scores of any school in their district, with particular growth for English Language Learners. Workshops like this encourage teachers to sustain and deepen the integration of the arts into their classrooms.

As our teachers and principals use the arts as a learning and engagement tool, the reading, language, math, critical thinking, and social skills of our students begin to improve. We’re taking the steps to catalyze a positive and strong school environment where students are motivated to learn and teachers are eager to teach.

Midway through our Avenal workshop, Darryl King shared a refresher of Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), an arts-based strategy that many of our partner schools have implemented school-wide.

The VTS method encourages educators to ask three open-ended questions about visual art:

  1. What’s going on in this picture?
  2. What do you see that makes you say that?
  3. What more can we find?

Unlike some standardized tests and processes of rote memorization, these open-ended questions encourage students to closely look at an artwork, vocalize details they observe, and back up their comments using visual evidence. VTS fosters their ability to think critically while increasing their speaking and listening skills.

Teachers left the PD excited to return to their classroom and use tableau and VTS to support student learning.

It’s absolutely clear. We’re building student and teacher skills now to guide Avenal Elementary into a strong, and certainly arts-rich, future.


Arts (Integration) in Action at Sierra Prep!

By Jacob Campbell, Program Manager for Turnaround Arts: California

I recently made a trip out to Santa Ana, CA, to see how Sierra Preparatory Academy’s first year as a Turnaround Arts: California partner school has been going, and I was blown away by the infusion of arts projects and instructional strategies that have begun to permeate all areas of this special school.

Hoopa Valley Elementary Hosts Its First Acorn Festival

By Heather Heslup, Implementation Coordinator

Honoring the rich history of their culture and community, the Arts Leadership Team (ALT) at Hoopa Valley Elementary School (HVES) recently led students and teachers on a journey to produce their first annual Acorn Festival. What began as a simple sharing of the story of the acorn’s significance to the local Hupa, Karuk, and Yurok tribes of northern California resulted in a wonderful display of community pride and creative exploration.

Family Portrait Night at Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary!

By Charlotte Borgen, Primary SDC Teacher at F. G. Joyner Elementary

On October 11th, the halls of Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary School were transformed into a vibrant, colorful art gallery. Every inch of wall space held a student-created self-portrait in the style of a famous artist. Mothers, fathers, siblings, and grandparents streamed through the front door in droves, stopping to admire the work and talk to their children about the process of creating their masterpieces. Everywhere you turned, a student was shouting “Look at my art!” or explaining their inspiration to friends and family. Parents stopped to write “Artist-Grams,” to be delivered to classrooms later in the week, for their children telling them how proud they were. Outside, families posed for their own portraits taken by a professional photographer. It was our school’s first art show, and our first event as a Turnaround Arts: California partner school, and it all started at the Turnaround Arts Summer Leadership Retreat.  

Investing time in your team: Lessons from the CAEYC conference

Sometimes you have to slow down to keep your momentum, especially toward the end of the school year when short-term priorities have the potential to distract from long-term goals.

Last month, ECE coaches Ana Rosas (Avenal ES) and Brenda Selva (King ES) explored the topic of sustaining instructional change at the annual conference for the California Association on the Education of Young Children. In the week following the conference, the pair identified several strategies to help their grade-level teams slow down, recharge and refocus.

Teaching artist magic: Galvanizing your team with a high-quality residency

When we learned that Wolf Trap would be doing a one-week residency at our school, I was excited because I had participated in several of their workshops in Virginia at the national Turnaround Arts retreat last summer. Finally my colleagues were going to experience what I had been telling them about.

Wolf Trap is a nationally recognized leader in the field of arts education. Its Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts trains teachers through residencies and workshops “to use performing arts techniques to enhance instructional practice and achieve curriculum goals set for young children. The focus is on essential areas such as math, language arts, performing arts fundamentals, critical thinking, and collaboration.”


Where we are from: Meadow Homes builds community through poetry

Starting a new school year is always hectic. There are classrooms to set up, student files to review, assessments to complete and lessons to plan. But communicating to students and colleagues how the arts can be used as a vehicle for learning is one of the most important things to do when you are a Turnaround Arts school.

Our wonderful principal, Sandy Wilbanks, gave us the opportunity to do just that during a professional development day. After attending the Turnaround Arts: National Summer Leadership Retreat, we were inspired and excited at her proposition to model an arts-integrated lesson for the school staff.