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Docent program gives kids opportunities to create

Parent volunteers keep arts alive
By: Chelsea Foster, Colfax Record Correspondent
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Colfax Elementary School is giving students the gift of art and imagination by keeping art in the classroom in spite of budget cuts. In years past, Colfax, along with many other Northern California schools, implemented a formal art docent program that was developed by art educator Barbara Herberholz. The Placer County Office of Education used to oversee this program, but because of the nationwide budget crisis, the program?s public funding was cut last year. Now a small group of parent volunteers works with teachers and staff at Colfax Elementary to ensure that kids continue to get art education in class. Using the lesson plans and images still provided online by county office of education, volunteer art docents teach a lesson and complete an art project about various topics once per month. Sharin Graves, whose son is in second grade, has volunteered as an art docent for his class for the past three years. ?We talk about line drawing, colors, darks and lights, realism, impressionism. It?s really fun,? Graves said. School Principal and Superintendent Anne Stone, Colfax Elementary principal and district superintendent, said students enjoy learning about famous works of art and creating their own artwork to share with their families. ?They absolutely love it,? Stone said of the students? reaction. ?Because of the way it?s structured, the kids get to do a serious art project with each lesson. And the projects are definitely keepers. I have one that my son did in third grade. It?s framed on the wall in our house.? Typically, each lesson includes a short description of an art topic, a viewing of a couple of large-scale prints, a question-and-answer session, and a hands-on project. Graves said the students love to discuss the works they view. ?The whole class wants to be involved and give their opinions. They?ve been very interactive. I don?t have any students who seem bored or like they aren?t having fun. I get a lot of great questions from them about the art,? Graves said. The hands-on creative work is even more enjoyable for the students, who relish stretching their creative muscles in paint, pen, chalk, pastels, and more. ?The kids really get into it. They will run with it. You give them something and their imagination just goes,? Graves said. ?We used to have a head art docent who would coordinate everything, provide materials through PCOE. There are still a few of us who want to volunteer, and we love it. We sometimes have to customize our lessons because not every class has lots of art materials. We work with what we have,? Graves said. ?Not every class at the school has an art docent, but we are trying to keep it going.? Stone gives credit to the dedicated team of volunteers like Graves who passionately commit to teaching kids about art. ?This is just one more example of the resourcefulness of our staff and community. The use of volunteers for the art docent program is something we appreciate so much. It?s great for parents who want to volunteer in their child?s classroom but can?t commit to every week,? Stone said. Second-grade teacher Lisa Preston said the art docent program provides a depth of instruction in art that her students would not otherwise receive. "I wouldn't devote time to teach them about masterpieces and cultural aspects of fine art like this. It's very helpful,? Preston said. ?It gives them that other perspective, a deeper look at art.? The classrooms' smartboards, large-scale computer-connected viewing monitors, enable the children to view master works of art on a large scale when docents like Graves provide images stored electronically to share. These large images are the foundation for the entire lesson and inspire discussion among the students. Preston said the impact of seeing masterpieces up close and personal is significant for the kids. "I'm just thankful that we have the smartboard technology and the parent volunteers to enable us to do it. It would be a loss for the kids to miss out because it really is the only in-depth instruction they would receive on art concepts,? Preston said. In addition to the art docent volunteer program, Stone organized a lunchtime art group that gives all the kids between grades three and eight a chance to exercise their imaginations during recess. ?In our gymnasium/cafeteria there is a stage ? not used very much. I rounded up art materials left over from various classes here and there. The staff pulled together a ton of materials, and we opened up the stage as an option during their recess for kids to make art. We usually have a new project every week,? Stone said. Lunchtime art projects are multimedia-based and often seasonal, such as pumpkin paintings for fall or nutcrackers for the holidays. There is also a ?free-drawing? section of the stage so children who don?t want to work on a particular project can still be creative. ?One of my favorite things about it is that these projects are so collaborative and community-minded,? Stone said. The lunchtime art program participants have decorated vases for the CES honors program, created murals for the school office, and made note cards for the fall festival as a fundraiser. ?They are so happy to do it. They?re never stingy with their artistic talent and efforts,? Stone said. ?It also gives kids an option. Not every kid wants to get out and run around on the playground every day.? Between the art docent volunteers and the lunchtime art program, students at Colfax Elementary have the option to follow their artistic passions. ?The idea was born from a lack of funding, really a response to the crisis in funding,? Stone said. ?Because we don?t have the resources to give students in-depth art education in a traditional sense, we have to get creative. Now kids who are moved to engage in art have the opportunity to do so when they wouldn?t before.? Parents or community members interested in volunteering for the art docent program can contact their child?s teacher or Principal Stone at the school at 346-2202.