This fall, we launched a Regional Coach Pilot Program (RCPP) across our statewide network of schools, through partnerships with a group of local institutions with experience providing arts integration training or artist residency programs in public schools. The RCPP gives us an opportunity to work with local partners to align coaching, arts integration, and artist residency resources to target school-identified goals for growth. The RCPP also contributes to our long-term sustainability plan by developing regional support networks around Turnaround Arts: California schools that have the potential to grow deep roots.
Over the next year, we’ll introduce you to some of our regional coaches and the work they are engaged with in our schools. First up is an interview with Alex Richardson, who represents the Sunset Center in Carmel as a Regional Coach at two schools in Monterey County: King Elementary in Seaside and Mary Chapa Academy in Greenfield.
Last month, we kicked off the RCPP with a convening of our statewide coaches that was generously hosted by the Sunset Center. Representatives from Alameda County Office of Education, Integrated Learning Department, CoTA (Collaborations: Teachers and Artists), North Coast Arts Integration Project, Orange County Department of Education, P.S. ARTS, and Sunset Center dove deep into the pillars of the Turnaround Arts program and set goals for their upcoming visits to our partner schools; we look forward to sharing their stories throughout the school year!
What is the Sunset Center, and how did its partnership with Turnaround Arts: California begin?
Sunset Community & Cultural Center is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) performing arts center with a 718-seat theater, black box performance space, and multiple meeting rooms. We primarily serve the residents of Monterey County. Attendees visit Sunset Center to see performances — we have over 150 theater events per year, including those of our four resident companies and our own multi-genre Sunset Presents series — but also for exhibit openings at our Marjorie Evans Gallery, free classes and lectures, and more.
Building on Sunset Center’s successful, nearly decade-old intensive arts-in-education program Classroom Connections, our Outreach Department was looking to increase the impact of our work and to partner more deeply with individual schools. Because of what we can offer as a regional performing arts center — performing arts expertise, space, and experience with arts education — it seemed a natural fit to work together. With the expansion of Turnaround Arts: California into six new schools this year, Sunset Center was thrilled to partner with Turnaround Arts: California by helping implement this incredible, evidence-based program in local schools.
Tell us about your role as part of the Turnaround Arts: California Regional Coach Pilot Program.
I have the honor of working with two awesome elementary schools in Monterey County: Mary Chapa Academy (Greenfield Union School District), and King Elementary (Monterey Peninsula Unified School District). We’ve already started to work together, having become first acquainted at the Turnaround Arts Summer Leadership Retreat several weeks ago. Both principals are wonderfully supportive visionaries, and I am getting to know their Arts Leadership Team members and other staff. In the coming months, I look forward to getting to know both schools’ students, as well.
My main role as a Regional Coach is to act as a sort of liaison between Turnaround Arts: California and the schools — sending information both ways and, in time, facilitating communication between Mary Chapa and King. Because California is so geographically large and Turnaround Arts: California serves 16 schools, I can attend school based Arts Leadership Team meetings, support the drafting of key school documents such as the Strategic Arts Plan, and help coordinate Turnaround Artist visits. In addition, Sunset Center staff are super excited to host professional development events for teachers here, welcome students from both schools to participate in Classroom Connections, and possibly facilitate student performances onstage in our theater.
What role do you see the arts playing in affecting change in the school communities you are working with this school year?
Mary Chapa Academy is entering its third year as a Turnaround Arts: California partner school, and they have a lot of positive things going on already: arts integration strategies are being utilized by classroom teachers, they have a great student music group called Kodiak Rock Band, and they produced their second musical last year which brought together the entire school community. This year, Mary Chapa is continuing to focus on family involvement and expanding arts integration strategies. As Principal Sonia Arámburo says, “Many of the children who attend Mary Chapa come from families who work long hours in the fields to cultivate much of the nation’s produce.” Taking care to involve parents and siblings through the arts is integral to the spirit of Mary Chapa Academy.
King Elementary is a school that a lot of Seaside residents have deep ties with — they went there as children, or their kids or nieces or nephews went there. There’s a lot of love for King, and people are thrilled to see the school “Putting the ART in SMART,” as their new tagline goes. A few key community members are also working on a new cultural center, which they are planning to actually house on King’s campus. Finally, the district hired a fantastic VAPA Coordinator last year, and she continues to create more opportunities for arts-centered education and professional development throughout the whole district this year . So, King is poised to have an amazing trajectory. I think the school will generate a real sense of pride in long-time Seaside locals, and I know the city will do everything it can to promote the success of its new arts-focused school.
Are there any events or projects you are particularly excited about this year?
Mary Chapa Academy is working with a local teaching artist to create a Student Portrait Gallery this year. The teaching artist is planning to work on different art techniques with different grade levels, so I’m really interested to see the great variety of portraits that come from this work and how each student represents his or herself. The opening reception will also be a great opportunity to bring parents into the school for a fun family night out.
King Elementary elected to receive Focus 5 training for their teachers this year, which will help students use theater techniques to facilitate classroom collaboration. The first professional development session with teachers is happening at the end of October. Having participated in the Cooperation and Concentration Challenges with Focus 5 staff at the summer retreat, I witnessed its power firsthand. I look forward to participating in the multi-day training with King staff and seeing its cumulative impact on students as the year progresses.