City schools get support for arts education

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PORLTAND — The federal government has awarded a $2 million grant to bolster arts education in Portland schools, city officials announced last week.

The U.S. Department of Education grant will support the arts in four elementary schools: East End, Ocean Avenue, Reiche and Riverton.

The University of Southern Maine and a Portland-based arts education program, Side x Side, will administer the grant through a program called Project Imagination. During the first year of the grant, the schools will receive support worth more than $360,000. Over the proposed four-year span, more than 1,700 students and 80 teachers will benefit. Side x Side was the applicant and recipient of the grant.

Only 18 out of more than 100 applicants received a grant through the DOE’s Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination program. This is the first time Maine schools have been selected.

Side x Side Executive Director Beth Wilbur Van Mierlo said she “believes that the best education has creativity at its heart.

“We promote top-to-bottom connection and collaboration within school communities to advance effective, engaging education,” she said.

Through the grant, she added, Portland schools will be able to measure “the premise that collaborative, high-quality, integrated arts boost academic achievement, motivate student learning, and improve school culture.”

USM will participate with Project Imagination by providing professional development for schools and teachers, and organizing student interns to co-teach and assist in the creation of an arts curriculum.

Kelly Hrenko, assistant  professor of arts education at USM, said the program will not only allow art and general education teachers to get their state certification, but will also advance art integration by partnering  student interns with mentor teachers.

The grant award was announced Oct. 22 at Reiche Elementary, where Mayor Michael Brennan called the funding “a great day” for Portland and its students.

Brennan said the grant will help facilitate three metrics he is hoping to achieve by 2017 in Portland. He hopes to have 120 more children reading at grade level; he wants to see an increase in high-school graduation of 60 students; and he is aiming for 40 more students to graduate from college.

He said this grant is “looking into the future about the way the world is going.”

“Everything is interrelated, and what this does is take education to the next level of recognizing that the world is integrated and that we no longer have these separate academic silos for approaching learning,” Brennan said.

In a written statement, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said, “Integrating the arts with core subjects … is an innovative step in the mission to reimagine our approach to education.”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.