California Educator

APRIL 2010

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Students and the arts thrive at West Palms Conservatory LEFT: Second-grade teacher Alison Stewart listens to Angelina Gonzales read at West Palms Conservatory Elementary School in Victorville. INSET: Students start the day with balance and focus. “We are blessed in that way,” says McGau- vran, who instructs a drawing elective. Se cond-grade te acher Dwayne Arvinger believes students do better in core subjects because of the school’s em- phasis on creative arts — not in spite of it. Last year the diverse student population scored 831 on the state’s Academic Perfor- mance Index. “The arts tie so many other subject ar- “Grab your mat, lie on your stomach and rai se your head up slooowly,” Alison Stew- art tells her first- and second-grade students. The youngsters arch like cobras and breathe deeply. Yoga, says second-grader Jaydin Sharp, is the best part of the day. “It gets you really relaxed and calm,” she ex- plains. “It wipes out all the stress.” Yoga is one of many electives students can choose at West Palms Conservatory in Victorville. Peek into various class- rooms during the afternoon and you’ll find students engaged in dance, visual arts, theater and music, including play- ing bluegrass. The school, which opened three years ago, is not flush with money or in an af- fluent neighborhood. It is a Title I cam- pus and facing cutbacks. But Victor Ele- mentary Teachers Association (VETA) members have made the arts a priority. They share the philosophy that everyone is good at something. And this includes teachers — who teach electives based on 12 California Educator | APRIL 2010 their expertise. “We see the impor- tance of this,” says Stewart. “We want our students to be well- rounded.” Tammi McGauvran, a fifth-grade math and science teacher, says a “shared vision” and passion for the arts make staff feel enthu- siastic about being part of a winning team. eas together,” says Arvinger, who teaches musical theater and organizes the perfor- mances. “Music helps students learn di- vision while counting to the beats. Music also helps kinesthetic learners succeed.” There is a waiting list to enroll in the school and a booster club offering strong parent support. But emphasis on enrich- ment is only one component of why the school is good, say VETA members. Pro- fessional development, in the form of grade-level collaboration, fosters success What makes a good school? Vinnie Pompei, language arts teacher, Tomas Rivera Middle School, Val Verde Teachers Association I think a good school is inclusive. Staff doesn’t talk about “my students” but instead about “our students.” In a good school you have a school climate where collaboration allows people with amazing talents, backgrounds and credentials to come together and create the right recipe for each of our students. A good school works at build- ing relationships with students so they know they are cared about, valuable, and that we believe in them. This helps with their development and academic success. A good school doesn’t just teach content standards and aca- demics — it teaches students social skills and real-world skills. A good school includes a safe learning environment for GLBT students — because these students have the highest suicide attempt rate and are bullied the most on campuses.

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