Portland arts education gets boost from Kennedy Center

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PORTLAND — The public schools and Portland Ovations have been accepted as partners by the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts’ Partner in Education Program.

The Portland groups join the Deer Isle-Stonington Opera House as the only Maine participants in 14 partnerships announced by the Kennedy Center this year.

The Portland partnership will be launched in a ceremony in Washington, D.C., in May.

Involvement in the Partners in Education program will allow representatives from the schools and Portland Ovations to attend an annual conference, where they can meet with people from 90 existing partners in 44 states and the District of Columbia to learn about their arts programs. 

The Portland partnerships will also be given access to a roster of national arts educators associated with the Kennedy Center, who may be tapped to lead local arts workshops for teachers and students.

Tom Lafavore, director of educational planning for the School Department, said the schools will use the opportunity to incorporate more lessons on multiculturalism into the district’s performing arts offerings.

“We’re really going to concentrate on multiculturalism in the arts,” Lafavore said, “because of the large arts community we have and because of our demographics in our schools.”

The school district has more than 6,900 students; 1,800 come from homes representing more than 60 different languages.

Lafavore said operating under the Kennedy Center umbrella will give teachers and students opportunities they otherwise would not have had.

“We could never afford to pay for the expertise and the artists to come into our district,” he said.

Barri Lynne Moreau, director of outreach and education for Portland Ovations, said the arts organization has had a long-standing partnership with the schools. Moreau said being inducted into the Kennedy Center program validates that work.

“And it gives us an opportunity to expand and extend it,” she said. “We’re extremely proud that we’ve been accepted by the Kennedy Center.”

Moreau said the national conference allows the Portland partnerships to see what programs other Kennedy partners are using. Then, the Portland partners can choose those programs that could translate well on a local level.

In addition to the national conference, Moreau said there will be three local workshops that will be open to all Portland teachers. That way, teachers of core subjects, like math and science, can get creative with their lesson plans and evaluations of student learning.

“The idea is to help teachers look at (the arts) as a vehicle for helping students learn more about another content area,” she said. “Instead of a student just memorizing some science facts, maybe this student might want to do a dance or some sort of kinetic sculpture that represents something they learned in science.”

The Kennedy Center partnership can last up to four years, according to the center’s Web site. After that, partners can apply for second-phase membership.

Workshops will likely start in the fall, Moreau said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net