New arts integration pilot program slated for Dunbar School
By Shannon Lee
Dunbar Elementary has long been known as an art-emphasis school. In years past, classroom and after-school programs have included visual arts, dance, performance, multimedia, poetry/creative writing, and muralism. For thirty years, a Western melodrama was the annual rite of passage for fifth-grade students. Over the past decade, all students have participated in creating murals that adorn many of the walls of the school buildings and tell stories of community, nature, diversity, history, and childhood. Just before the pandemic, Transcendence Theatre Company launched a successful arts program via their now-disbanded education wing. This fall, Dunbar is excited to find their campus selected for an innovative pilot program organically grown from Sonoma Valley’s arts advocacy group, Creative Bridges.
The Dunbar Strategic Arts Plan (DSAP) is a proposed year-long program whose goal is helping children develop academic and English language skills through engagement with theater and other arts. The DSAP will be a partnership between Dunbar staff/teachers, Creative Sonoma, Creative Bridges, Sonoma Community Center, Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Valley Vibes Orchestra, Art Escape, Boys and Girls Club of Sonoma, and the 6th Street Playhouse. Overall, the program will be facilitated by Kimzin Creative, a local arts and equity consulting group with a history of providing arts programming, headed by Nikko Kimzin.
One core principle of this program is the idea that students can build language skills through the arts. “Using the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which seeks to build equitable on-ramps for diverse learners in each lesson, the arts engage the [student] in active, participatory language learning, ensuring every student ‘wins’ in the classroom. Whether students learn auditorily, visually, physically, experientially, the arts are how we can deliver quality language skills,” Kimzin says.
The DSAP involves training teachers to directly facilitate the integrated arts programming through mentorship known as Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) training. This is achieved through community and district support, together with the creativity and connections of a broad network of arts partners. Kimzin explains that “it is our goal to create a system where the local schools have the skills and connections to lead the arts programming. We are very aware that programs like this are only sustainable if their foundation is organically rooted, in structure and intention, in the community.”
Why Dunbar? The school has a history steeped in the arts. The administration and teachers are willing and enthusiastic participants. Dunbar is a consistently low-performing school, with many students who are English-language learners (52% of Dunbar students are ELs). At a small school, the process of creating a new program and evaluating the outcomes is made more manageable. The program can then be scaled up for larger schools.
But it goes deeper. As the only district school with direct damage from the 2017 fires and a student population that was heavily impacted by evacuations and home losses in the community, the acute and lingering trauma within the Dunbar population is more profound. The school also has a high percentage of low-income students (more than 80%). “The arts can be used as a form of regulation that leads to resilience against trauma, which is a reaction to stress. When our students are stressed, the mind, soul, and body disconnect and engage in fight-or-flight mode, which does not lead to a [positive] learning environment. The arts act as a tool to reconnect the entire student and recenter an environment that promotes healthy engagement with education. Understanding the trauma and stress that our students have endured over their lives is crucial to engaging them in academic success — and the arts can do just that,” Kimzin explains. Interim principal Katie Hahn added, “We are so excited to [participate in taking] Dunbar’s rich history of the arts at school in a new direction. This is an opportunity to offer robust arts programming for our students, and we look forward to working together in partnership with these community organizations.”
As a pilot program, the DSAP will be heavily monitored for measurable outcomes. “We will be using qualitative and quantitative data collection and observational hours. We will be tracking feedback that is student-, teacher-, parent-, and arts partner-centered,” Kimzin says. “We are using this year as a pilot program with the intention for greater Sonoma Valley Unified School District expansion in fall 2022. Currently there are no plans to expand beyond the district, but if successful, the DSAP could serve as a model program to be recreated elsewhere.” The initial grant proposal states that DSAP will evaluate its success using: 1) pre- and post-surveys and tests for staff, students, and partner organizations; 2) student attendance/truancy/tardiness; 3) observational data; 4) interviews; 5) grades; 6) suspension/expulsion rates; 7) parental and community involvement; and 8) district and state benchmark assessments.
A commitment of first-year partial funding has been solidified with the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation. Foundation executive director Angela Ryan says, “When the Ed Foundation put out the call for youth arts programs that would bring much-needed joy and creativity to children this year, we couldn’t have dreamed of the kind of collaboration that the Dunbar Strategic Arts Pilot promises. Sonoma Valley is lucky to have such talented and dedicated creative arts organizations, and Dunbar students and staff will benefit from the unique vision that this program will bring to life. We’re thrilled to be a partner in making it happen.”
Look for more information and ways that the community can be directly, and indirectly, involved with this arts integration pilot at Dunbar Elementary School over the coming months. If you already know you’d like to be of service as a volunteer, donor, or both, please email Nikko Kimzin at [email protected] com.