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.


Thank you, Little Kids Rock!

by Cathryn Deering

Two years ago, I was sitting in my principal’s office trying to decide which sessions to take at the annual Turnaround Arts Summer Leadership Retreat. This was going to be our first year as a Turnaround Arts: California partner school, and I wanted to make sure I was signing up for classes that would best benefit me as a new music teacher and in implementing arts integration at my school. I now had my dream job — I stepped out of the general education classroom after 13 years to become the music teacher/Arts Coordinator at Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary. I had a music credential because that was my major in college, but I had never taught music before — I had no idea where to start. When I saw a class called “Little Kids Rock, Modern Band” I thought, “hmmm, that sounds interesting!” To top it off, they told us that they would tell us how to get free instruments, so I immediately signed up.

Not knowing what to expect, I walked into the room stuffed from the Airlie breakfast buffet and half asleep because of the three-hour time difference and I saw a bunch of guitars next to the seats. I thought, “Uh oh, I don’t know how to play the guitar — I’m a trained opera singer.” Well, wouldn’t you know, about 20 minutes later I’m playing the guitar to multiple rock songs. Granted, they were one-finger chords on the guitar, but by George I was playing the guitar! My food coma and jet lag dissipated and I WAS SOLD! I kept on imagining our kiddos playing these instruments with songs that they love and composing their own songs! If I could do it, anyone could do it! I was able to step out of my structured classical training and be comfortable doing something that was quite foreign to me, but something my alter-ego always wanted to do: play in a rock band!

The minute I got back to Los Angeles, I signed up for the Little Kids Rock workshops. This past summer, I attended the Little Kids Rock Modern Band Rockfest 2017 at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, Colorado. It was such an inspirational conference, and there were so many choices of wonderful workshops to attend. It didn’t matter your skill level, there was something for everyone — from creating a scope and sequence and assessments for Modern Band implementation, to Hip Hop for positive classroom culture, to using Ukulele with technology. There was even a class for how to put a drum set together (which was really useful for me, since my drum set was in pieces all over my classroom last year and YouTube was no help).

A very powerful piece of this conference was that they had sessions and speakers on music education advocacy. As a music educator in today’s climate, arts education advocacy is one of the most powerful tools that we have for sustaining and maintaining the arts in schools. Being at this conference, there was a sense of advocacy, unity, and inclusiveness that I had not experienced in a long time. The Little Kids Rock staff was incredibly organized and had us involved in activities where we were forced (and I mean that in a positive way) to interact with educators from all over the world. If we weren’t in workshops, we were busy finding things from our BINGO game or participating in jam sessions and performing for each other. Educators came from all over the world to learn, grow, and create together for the betterment of our children. I’m not saying that Modern Band is the only answer, but if we are implementing a growth mindset and creating a culture and climate of success and joy, which Modern Band definitely creates for all (students, staff, and stakeholders), then imagine what a positive light and power that can create in our world and redirect all of the negativity and toxic climate that our society is currently experiencing.

Thank you Turnaround Arts for introducing me to Little Kids Rock. Not only has this program supported me in creating a successful music program at Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary, but it has also supported arts integrated instruction. Little Kids Rock has not only given me skills to scaffold students learning various instruments, but also to create their own songs based on different content areas that they are learning in their classes. Another great thing about Little Kids Rock is that it doesn’t matter if you are a general education teacher or a music teacher, you will get something out of the program to best fit your instructional needs and the needs of your students.

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.

Acting Right at King Elementary!

By Natalie Hentze, First Grade Teacher at King Elementary

What is Focus 5’s Acting Right?
For our first year as a Turnaround Arts: California partner school, King Elementary School in Seaside decided to implement Focus 5’s Acting Right, which uses drama as a classroom management tool, school-wide. Acting Right is an arts-based strategy that provides students with the tools to remain calm, focused, and balanced.

Building Momentum: ALT in Action!

An interview with Dan Donovan, Digital Media Arts Teacher at Willard Intermediate

What is the Arts Leadership Team (ALT)? How did you form Willard’s team?

The ALT is a core group of teachers and administrators charged with leading a positive shift in school culture and building staff capacity to utilize arts-based teaching strategies and arts integration to boost student achievement. Following the 2016 Turnaround Arts Summer Leadership Retreat, which I attended with our principal, Amy Scruton, and our 8th grade Science teacher, Laura Compton, we were energized to share this amazing program with our Willard Intermediate School community. Part of being a Turnaround Arts: California partner schools involves developing a Strategic Arts Plan (SAP) to identify our school’s short- and long-term goals and guide our use of the arts to move toward those goals. With the development of this living document in mind, we set out to create an ALT that was representative of all grade levels and content areas.

FloJo, VTS, & MOCA!

By Cathryn Deering

What is VTS?

This year at Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary School (FloJo), we have decided that the school-wide, arts-based strategy we’re implementing will be Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS). VTS is a method that teachers can use to lead inquiry-based discussions around different art images.

In this process, students are asked to look carefully at a work of art without knowing the name of the image or the artist. They discuss their observations and give evidence from the image to support their observations. In using the three VTS questions, teachers are able to facilitate thought-provoking conversations in a neutral way that promotes critical thinking and creative problem solving.

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.


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.