Thanks to the state’s new Arts, Music and Physical Education grants, Sweetwater educators now have needed resources to develop a comprehensive curriculum for the district’s 42,000 students. The district’s $3.2 million funding allocation will be focused on providing professional development for teachers, as well as purchasing equipment and supplies to improve instruction in physical education and the visual and performing arts.
According to the California Department of Education, this is the first time all schools will receive monies especially designated for physical education and the visual and performing arts. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell expects these targeted initiatives to have far-reaching effects on schools.
“High-quality arts education and improved physical fitness can support achievement in all areas of a student’s education,” O’Connell said. “These grants will help provide our schools with resources to implement standards-based instruction in physical education and visual and performing arts.”
To guide the expenditure of these grant funds, the district created two task forces representing the visual and performing arts and physical education areas. Each group analyzed the needs of students and teachers across the district and developed specific recommendations on the best use of this new financial support.
“The input from these task forces has been critical in determining the best and most effective use of this grant money,” said Dr. Jesus Gandara, Sweetwater Superintendent. “In utilizing these valuable resources, we are committed to maximizing the positive impact on students.”
The Arts Education Plan, developed by a district-wide strategic planning committee, outlines the direction the district will pursue through this funding. Bill Virchis, Director of the Department of Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) and chair of the arts committee, said his group focused on ways the district could achieve an exemplary visual and performing arts program. He said the committee is committed to offering a program that raises student achievement in the arts and provides equity and equal access throughout the district.
“This is a gift to our schools that is unprecedented in state of California history,” said Virchis. “These additional resources will fill in gaps in school funding for arts programs, supplies and equipment. We are now in a position to finally meet the primary needs of our teachers and students in our visual and performing arts.”
While there are state guidelines, Virchis said there is no one single plan that will fit for every school district in the state. Sweetwater has decided on a five-year plan to infuse the funds from the one-time block grant and the state’s proposed ongoing arts funding into the district’s arts program. In the first year of implementation, goals will include accessibility for all students in all four disciplines within a sequential program taught by fully credentialed teachers; ensuring high quality instruction by providing professional development in the visual and performing arts for teachers and administrators; creating a 7-12 continuum of standards-based arts education that can be successfully implemented to meet the needs of the district and the community; and providing adequate supplies, equipment and facilities for standards-based programs in all four disciplines for all students.
New equipment and supplies represent some of the most pressing and immediate needs across the district. VAPA has plans to buy equipment such as pianos, guitars, drums and horns that can be shared district wide. Dr. James Doyle, accompanist and orchestra liaison, said the new equipment serves a dual purpose.
“Keeping in mind that the district has some very old and damaged equipment, it is important to acknowledge that the new instruments help raise the level of health and safety for students,” Doyle said. “The major impact, though, will be on increased curriculum support.”
Similar work has been completed by a group examining the physical education needs of district students and teachers. According to PE Task Force Co-Chairs Eileen Grady-Romero and Kim Butler, the goals of the district’s physical education program are to provide students with a variety of age-appropriate physical activities, opportunities to attain the health related benefits of rigorous physical activity and an environment where students develop the positive personal and social skills required for society. Grady-Romero, who teaches physical education at Rancho del Rey Middle School, also sees additional benefits to this increased attention to physical education.
“With this targeted funding we will be looking to align teaching curriculums to the new state standards, improve our students’ state Fitness-gram scores and combat the obesity epidemic proliferating in the Sweetwater community,” Grady-Romero said.
The task force’s plan for physical education indicates the block grant funding will be used specifically to establish the district’s first ever Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment team for physical education. Butler, who serves as the Physical Education Curriculum Specialist for the district and a teacher at Mar Vista Middle, said one of the team’s first jobs will be to create the course writing team that will develop new course descriptions. These descriptions will be in line with new state standards and include a focus on student improvement on the Fitnessgram.
“Although we want to see the percentage of students who pass all six Fitnessgram assessments increase, our main focus is we want to see improvements in the cardiovascular and body composition scores because of the relationship these assessments have for lifetime wellness,” Butler said.
“We hope that through the new physical education model and participation in life-long fitness activities, our young people will leave the Sweetwater District with a strong foundation in fitness that they will carry into their adult years,” said Grady-Romero.
Virchis agrees that these new state fundsand the programs and new equipment they supportwill have a wide impact in the district.
“We view these funds as a benefit to not only students in specialized programs, but for the general student body,” he said.