Grant to fund arts education for youngest students

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Methow Arts Alliance announced last month that it received a three-year grant to provide arts education to students in kindergarten through third grade, at Methow Valley Elementary School and North Omak Elementary School.

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The $75,000 grant from the Icicle Fund will pay for two art instructors — one at each school — who will teach one hour of art per week.

The Icicle Fund commissioned a report in 2017 that detailed the state of arts education in Okanogan County and the Wenatchee Valley. In Okanogan County, the study concluded that students in elementary schools aren’t getting enough arts education. Neither Methow Valley nor North Omak Elementary have dedicated arts teachers. Meanwhile, nonprofit arts organizations such as Methow Arts are flourishing in the county, the report said.

Icicle Fund Executive Director Christine Morgan cited Methow Arts’ 30-year history providing artists in residence to Okanogan-area schools, saying the Twisp-based nonprofit is poised to help fill the gaps in arts education outlined in the 2017 report.

“The findings clearly point to specific areas of need, and Methow Arts was identified as the right organization to lead a pilot project to explore ways of addressing some of those needs,” Morgan said.

Methow Arts tapped Anne Venable to work at Methow Valley Elementary. She’s a certificated teacher who has been a Methow Arts artist in residence for the past few years.

“She’s the ideal person for this position,” Methow Arts Executive Director Amanda Jackson Mott said

The arts program is important because it will improve students’ broader education, said Methow Valley School District Superintendent Tom Venable, who happens to be Anne Venable’s husband.

The program at Methow Valley Elementary will enable students “to solve complex, real-world problems and to communicate their thoughts and ideas effectively,” Tom Venable said.

Arts education in the early grades improves problem solving and school retention in later years, Jackson Mott said. Teaching art also reduces bullying and improves communication between students and parents.

The grant expires after three years, but Venable and Jackson Mott said the school district and arts organization will devise ways to continue or even expand the program afterward.

“I’m optimistic … it will be a program that resonates with our students, staff, parents and community, and it will compel us to find capacity within our budget to ensure that it continues,” Venable said.