Collaboration, Creativity, Culture, & Community
By Mimi Dojka

I have worked as an arts educator throughout rural Northern California for many years, in pre-K through post-secondary settings. An essential aspect of this effort has involved collaboration, which I continue to practice in my work with the Turnaround Arts: California Regional Coach Pilot Program (RCPP) and the North Coast Arts Integration Project (NCAIP).

NCAIP is an arts education partnership between Eureka City Schools, Klamath-Trinity Joint Unified School District, and Humboldt State University; it is a four-year, federally-funded project that seeks to integrate and strengthen arts instruction in eight rural elementary and middle schools with the goal of improving student academic performance, reasoning skills, creative thinking, and engagement. Through a rigorously designed program of intensive and ongoing professional development and in-class coaching of teacher participants, NCAIP integrates the arts (visual arts, music, dance, theater, literary arts, media arts, and folk arts) throughout the TK-8 humanities classes (English language arts, history, and social studies) and STEM classes (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). The project is funded by the Arts Education Model Development and Dissemination Program (AEMDD 2014-18) and will contribute to the body of ongoing research that supports the importance of an education in the arts, specifically the arts integration model.

NCAIP uses a collaborative approach to inform the development and implementation of its programs. A network of teachers, teacher leaders, teaching artists, and arts administrators, producers, and organizations work together with the intention of creating a program that is both impactful and sustainable. One of NCAIP’s amazing partners is Turnaround Arts: California!

NCAIP “shares” a partner school with Turnaround Arts: California in the Klamath-Trinity Joint Unified School District — Hoopa Valley Elementary (HVES). HVES is a K-8 school located on the Hoopa Reservation. In my role as Turnaround Arts: California Regional Coach, I collaborate with HVES staff and teachers as well as community and tribal members to support school-wide advancement by creating sustainable models for A) school and community interaction through art and cultural practices and B) teacher-led, arts integration-centered, instructional leadership.

Building school and community connections is a key piece of HVES’s Strategic Arts Plan. In October, HVES hosted an exceptionally well-attended “Family Art Night” with the help of P.S. ARTS, another RCPP partner organization; toddlers to elders engaged in creating artworks together while learning about contemporary art practice.

The month of November offered two engaging arts and cultural events: a “relaunch” of the Turnaround Arts program at HVES and the inaugural Acorn Festival. HVES was honored to host some of the Turnaround Arts: California team for the “relaunch” event. New and returning teachers and staff participated in professional development on arts-based teaching strategies. Following “on-your-feet” instruction, the group discussed various approaches to arts integration as well as implementation challenges and successes. Then, we all helped prepare for the Acorn Festival that took place the next evening. This (now) annual event celebrates the ancient seasonal practice of harvesting and processing local Tanoak acorns as a way of honoring an integral cultural tradition. The school-wide effort actively involved the K-8 school population as well as community and tribal members. Traditional storytelling, singing, acorn processing, and “live” displays of regalia were beautifully integrated with an extensive exhibition of acorn-inspired visual art, poetry, and hands-on visual and performing arts activities.

I believe arts experiences such as the Acorn Festival offer students, teachers, and community members a unique collaborative opportunity to be creators and transmitters of significant cultural knowledge and information. I am excited to continue collaborating with my NCAIP, HVES, and Turnaround Arts: California colleagues as we work towards creating arts-inspired learning environments that foster meaningful, creative, and critical experiences.