Art program has impact on students and their teachers

Kibler Elementary School first-grade student Carlos Garcia sums up where his next fish-stamp print will go during a recent art project.

Kibler Elementary School teacher Julie McGrath sat in front of her first-grade students and explained how they were going to take the stamp they created in an earlier class – a fish cut out of sticky-back foam and glued on to a wooden block – dab it lightly with ink and stamp a pattern across a piece of material.

After the brief lecture, they were off to create.

It was the second time McGrath had stood before her students and taught an art class on her own. Across her classroom was artist Meredith Essex, offering support and instruction to the teacher.

Essex is the lead visual artist for Arts Impact, an educational program for teachers offered through the Puget Sound Educational Service District to Pierce and King county school districts. McGrath is one of six Kibler teachers – Pat Anderson, Rose Becker, Sherrie Hardersen, SaraLee Rasmussen and Cyndi Killip are the others – who are participating in the program.

Essex has been with Arts Impact since it started in 1999. Arts Impact brings quality arts education experiences to young people by training classroom teachers to use the arts in day-to-day teaching.

The plan, Essex said, is to have teachers become as comfortable teaching the arts as they are any other subject.

She said the program is designed to give them the basic skills and comprehension to carry out an effective art lesson, so hopefully it becomes a part of who they are as teachers.

“I think it’s been a really great experience working with the artist,” McGrath said. “It’s been an incredible learning journey.”

According to information from the PSESD, the program was developed in response to a 1997 survey conducted by the Cultural Council of Greater Tacoma, which showed 21 percent of Pierce County teachers felt qualified to teach the arts. Since Washington state will begin requiring students to meet Essential Academic Learning Requirements in the arts this year, the Cultural Council saw a communitywide need for teacher training in the arts.

Arts Impact was launched in partnership with the Tacoma Art Museum and the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts.

The cost of the program is covered with grants.

Several Enumclaw elementary schools participate in the program, which initially is a two-year commitment.

McGrath and her colleagues spent time during the summer at an institute, learning from artists, in one of three areas – visual arts, theater or dance. Their training includes workshops and outings to area art galleries, museums and performing arts centers. They are then paired with a mentor and together they develop a lesson plan, teach the lesson, evaluate and revise it and assess the final class.

McGrath wrote her recent lesson with support from her mentor, tying the stamping to a unit on patterns the students were studying in math. Other art projects have been tied to social studies.

Teachers will return to the classroom this summer to concentrate on a different field with a new mentor.

Also, as part of the program, the Kibler students will get a field trip to the Tacoma Art Museum.

A presentation on the Arts Impact program is planned for a future Enumclaw School Board meeting.

Reach Brenda Sexton at or 360-802-8206.