P.S. ARTS to be Honored at Americans for the Arts “National Arts Awards” for its Contributions to the Advancement of Arts Education

By Megan Strawther, Development & Communications Associate
In Cooperation With The Herb Alpert Foundation

Venice, CA ­– P.S. ARTS has been selected as the 2014 recipient of the Americans for the Arts “Arts Education Award” and will be honored at the National Arts Awards on October 20th in New York City. According to Americans for the Arts, the country’s leading arts advocacy organization, this event recognizes and celebrates the contributions and accomplishments of national leaders who are advancing the arts in the United States. Accepting the award on the organization’s behalf are Chairperson Joshua B. Tanzer and Co-Executive Directors Dr. Kristen Paglia and Amy Shapiro.

Students performing at the 2014 TakePART Festival, a free family-friendly event that celebrates the arts in Centinela Valley.

Students performing at the 2014 TakePART Festival, a free family-friendly event that celebrates the arts in Centinela Valley.

P.S. ARTS, a nonprofit arts education organization serving more than 20,000 children in Southern and Central California, was chosen to receive the award for its exemplar program model and its contributions to the public education reform movement. Along with its school-improvement programs that include classroom studios, extended learning, and community engagement, P.S. ARTS takes an active role in state and national public educational policy conversation and serves as a model of how arts teaching and learning can improve school performance. P.S. ARTS was also honored earlier this year by the First Lady at the White House STEAM Fair for its demonstration of integrating the arts into core curriculum.

“We are extremely proud of this well deserved honor that Americans for the Arts is bestowing on P.S. ARTS this year,“ says Rona Sebastian, President of the Herb Alpert Foundation. “This award recognizes the remarkable role that P.S. ARTS plays in providing access to the arts in underserved public schools and communities. As a unique organization and stellar model for others, P.S. ARTS has had tremendous impact helping thousands of children to overcome economic and literacy barriers through experiencing high-quality, sustained, and integrated arts programs in the classroom.”

One of P.S. ARTS’ primary accomplishments includes the facilitation of the TakePART Initiative, a five-district arts collaborative in the Centinela Valley that is funded by the Herb Alpert Foundation. Through this initiative, regional service providers, community organizations, funders, and the Centinela Valley Union High School, Hawthorne, Lawndale Elementary, Lennox, and Wiseburn school districts have worked together to provide crucial arts education experiences in these underserved communities.

“P.S. ARTS is providing measurable success for our students, 20,000 strong, not just in arts development, but in ways that include creative problem solving, collaboration, and communication with peers,” says Chairperson Joshua B. Tanzer. “We are not expressly developing artists, but rather productive and self-motivated citizens for our communities.”

Happy California Arts Day!

Allison Schaub, Advancement Assistant

By Allison Schaub, Advancement Assistant

We love Fridays at P.S. ARTS, and we especially love a Friday that puts a spotlight on the arts. Today, the first Friday of October, is California Arts Day. This annual celebration coincides with National Arts and Humanities Month, a coast-to-coast collective recognition of the importance of art and culture in our country. California Arts Day not only celebrates how the arts have helped shape our Golden State, but also serves as an opportunity to reflect on the state of arts education in our schools.

P.S. ARTS helps fill the gap that shrinking budgets have created in our public school system. Our organization feels it is crucial that all children, regardless of socio-economic circumstances, are entitled to a well-rounded and excellent education. This year we will provide weekly dance, music, theater, and visual arts to more than 20,000 students in 10 school districts across Southern and Central California. However, the impact goes beyond these numbers. P.S. ARTS is creating an exemplary model that strives for overall school improvement and sense of community among students, parents, teachers, and schools.

P.S. ARTS Student

Today, we recognize the achievements of our growing organization as well as the increased budget for statewide arts education. This is the first time in over a decade that the California Arts Council has received an increase in funding. In the 2014-2015 year, the CAC will receive nearly 6x the average general fund support compared to years past. This increased funding is an important step towards providing high-quality arts education programs in public schools across the state.

Here at P.S. ARTS, we feel fortunate to have over 20,000 reasons to celebrate year-round. We’d like to wish our all-star students, Teaching Artists, and supporters a happy and fun-filled California Arts Day!

Aspiring to Excellence in Arts Teaching and Learning: The P.S. ARTS Faculty Training Series

Dr. Kristen Paglia, Executive Director of Education & Programs

By Dr. Kristen Paglia, Executive Director of Education & Programs


I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.

~ John Steinbeck

As P.S. ARTS continues to expand our reach in California public schools, we become increasingly aware of the contribution our programs can make to overall school improvement. Teaching Artists are in the charmed position of engaging students in joyful creation. The arts provide the elusive opportunity for children to reflect on and share their experience and opinions with adults – not just within a parent/child or teacher/student hierarchy, but also as co-explorers and creators. Moreover, playing music, dancing, painting, and the like break up the school day and boost students’ energy. Even kids who love school and learning in the most traditional sense get overloaded by the sheer volume of information and the relentless challenge of assimilating new knowledge and skills. Finally, art exhibitions and performances draw parents and families to classrooms and may even lead to increased involvement in their children’s education.

P.S. ARTS Teaching Artist and Inside Out Community Arts Artist Leaders come together for the first time at the P.S. ARTS three-day intensive faculty training this past August.

P.S. ARTS Teaching Artists and Inside Out Community Arts Artist Leaders come together for the first time at the P.S. ARTS three-day intensive faculty training this past August to prepare for the 2014-2015 school year.

This is powerful stuff, and we do not take the responsibility or privilege to improve children’s lives through arts education lightly at P.S. ARTS. At the beginning of every school year, the Programs Staff meets and poses the same question: What else can we do to improve the quality of P.S. ARTS programs? It seems straightforward, but when it comes to education, quality is moving target influenced by research trends, developing technology, and an increasingly sophisticated and diverse student population. “Student success in school and life” rests at the core of the P.S. ARTS’ education model, but success looks different over time and we have to respond to that. At our three-day faculty training intensive in August, P.S. ARTS Programs Staff challenged faculty to define excellence in their practice.

There's never a dull moment when you have theater teachers in your midst!

There’s never a dull moment when you have a room full of Theater Teaching Artists!

The training was framed by Harvard Project Zero research on quality arts education programs, which explores the “qualities of quality,” and concludes that the best programs “go beyond best practices to include consideration of the goals of arts education, such as aesthetic awareness and personal growth.”[1] P.S. ARTS programs address these outcomes, as well as the impact of a positive and creative school climate on students’ academic performance and wellbeing.

Each day of the three-day training focused on one element of a holistic, high-quality program:  Curriculum, Pedagogy, and Community/Environment. Teaching Artists spent time reviewing research and best practices in each of these domains, and shared their own practical applications, tips, concerns, challenges, and solutions that worked! Co-founder of Inside Out Community Arts (IOCA) and Master Artist Leader, Camille Ameen, and P.S. ARTS Associate Program Director of IOCA, Lui Sanchez, along with other IOCA veteran Artist Leaders led our newly merged faculty in the practice of Council, a facilitated story-telling approach that promotes community spirit. Alongside the theoretical and pragmatic conversations, P.S. ARTS Teaching Artists engaged in art-making, flexing their own creative muscles to make exemplar classroom displays that communicated our 2014-2015 programs theme, “Building Bridges – Breaking Barriers.”

It was three days of walking our talk and employing a range of arts and project-based strategies to fully immerse ourselves in learning so that we can begin the school year re-energized and fully prepared to teach!

[1] See Harvard Project Zero report, Qualities of Quality:  Understanding excellence in arts education: 


3..2..1.. Happy New (School) Year!

Elda Pineda, Program Director

By Elda Pineda, Program Director


colored-pencilsI’ve always loved that “Back to School” feeling. As a kid, the world felt so alive with possibility whenever September rolled around. Along with unblemished Pink Pearl erasers, the woody scent of freshly sharpened pencils and the unwrinkled splendor of new Pee-Chee folders, there was the anticipation of making new friends, the potential of getting straight A’s, the unbridled hope of taking a good school picture and, maybe, finding a sport I played well. Any sport. Just one.

As an adult, my appreciation for a fresh set of office supplies remains undiminished, but that Back to School feeling has come to represent so much more. A new school year presents a clean slate, the opportunity to reinvent yourself into the person you want to be, and a world when last year’s mistakes and unmet goals are acknowledged, learned from… and then left behind. Back To School is a reboot.

A P.S. ARTS program reboot was the unofficial staff theme this summer. As we planned for the upcoming year – including the first year of our merger with Inside Out Community Arts and year one of serving the entire Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District – we challenged ourselves to focus not who we are today, but who we want to be and more importantly, who our students need us to be, tomorrow and beyond. The consensus was, more than ever, our students deserve the highest quality arts education possible. They deserve excellence.

As an organization, we have defined excellence as maintaining the highest standards in every aspect of the organization, from the office to the classroom. It means striving for the ideal.  It means stretching beyond the comfort zone of what’s “good enough” and being unafraid to fail.  It means taking our program theme for 2014-2015 to heart and actively “Building Bridges, Breaking Barriers.” And because we’re P.S. ARTS, it means doing all of the above with joy and passion.

Lofty ideals for certain, so we also spent a lot of time working with our staff and faculty to find the practical applications and ground the ideal in reality.  For example, for our office staff, it meant reorganizing and shifting roles and investing in infrastructure to support our growth as an organization. For our artists, it was a reaffirmation that the lessons we teach our students extend far beyond the classroom. We dismantled all of our teaching processes and examined everything we do: from curriculum planning, to how we greet students, to how we end each class, and we asked ourselves to be mindful and intentional about each step. We also talked about our relationships with our school partners, our students’ parents, and the neighborhoods they live in and created strategies on how to best engage them and create a sense of community through the arts.

We’re looking forward to sharing stories of our new endeavors. We are so very excited about the direction we’re heading, and we’re grateful for all of you, our supporters, for taking this journey with us. We hope that you, too, might be inspired to take a moment for renewal! (At the very least, buy yourself a new pen and notebook. It always feels good. Promise.)

Happy Back To School Reboot!

What Role Does A Teaching Artist Play In The Classroom?

By Benin Marshall, Education & Programs Intern

What role does a Teaching Artists play in the classroom?  How much do these artists impact the lives of their students?  My summer as the P.S. ARTS Education & Programs Intern has allowed me to better understand how important Teaching Artists are in the lives of the children they serve/teach.  P.S. ARTS Teaching Artists provide an outlet for creativity in the arts that many of their students would not have access to otherwise.  P.S. ARTS engages students in learning about the arts and encourages students to apply what they’ve learned to their daily lives.

I first got the chance to see a P.S. ARTS Teaching Artist in action at Harvard Elementary in MacArthur Park.  The Teaching Artist I shadowed was Matthew Orduña, a P.S. ARTS Theater Teaching Artist.  When I first stepped into Matthew’s class, I could instantly see the chemistry he had with his students.  He would engage them on different levels, asking them about their hobbies, favorite athletes, and why they liked that particular athlete.  For this particular project, Matthew had his students make a film out of one of the student’s scripts in class.  He also gave his students the opportunity to participate in every role the film had.  Students worked in casting roles, cinematography, lighting, set design, costume design, and sound.  It was amazing.  What stood out the most to me was how Matthew allowed his students to be creative problem solvers.

In one instance, Matthew asked students where a specific scene should be shot between a dialogue with the mother and her son.   One student gave the ideal location for the scene, though at that time of day the location was not accessible.  So the students brainstormed for a while more and finally came up with the solution of filming the scene in front of a window in their classroom.  They arranged the set for the scene, the actors rehearsed their lines, the director said, “Quiet on the set.”  In four takes, the students had the scene they needed.  This is exactly the kind of teaching and learning we need in the classroom–teaching that inspires students to actively participate and share their ideas and creates a learning environment that is both positive and collaborative.

Jose Castellanos Family Art Night 2014

Students at Jose Castellanos Family Art Night in 2014.

Another P.S. ARTS Theater Teaching Artists, Leo Vargas, had the same effect on students when I attended a P.S. ARTS Family Art Night at Jose Castellanos Elementary in Los Angeles.  Leo, along with Stephanie Kistner and Amy Knutson of the Education & Programs Team at P.S. ARTS, made sure every student had what was needed in order for the event to go well.  The lesson was based on the concept of painting to music. Students would look at a masterwork while Leo explained how the artist created the particular piece.  With this concept in their minds, Leo put on music and the students and their parents began to paint.  Leo had the whole audience engaged in the activity. Students were very involved in their painting and asking questions.  The Education & Programs Team supported the Teaching Artist, students, and parents by providing answers to any questions they might have had and additional art materials for them to use.  The event was a success and ended with a raffle giveaway of t-shirts, crayons, and music!

P.S. ARTS Teaching Artists play a critical part in student learning.  They go into the classrooms ready to give these students the skills to master their craft.  Since all of the P.S. ARTS Teaching Artists are also practicing artists, students get the opportunity to work with professional artists and learn useful skills that are used in the arts field. P.S. ARTS allows students to tap into their creative nature.  They provide students with the creative outlet needed for them to be successful in life and serve as positive mentors that will help them along their journey.

This summer internship at P.S. ARTS has truly taught me a great deal about what it takes to have a successful arts education nonprofit.  It takes a clear mission and a team with drive, open communication, and respect for one another.  It was very important for me to see how the staff at P.S.ARTS took time to check on their Teaching Artists and make sure everything was going well in their class.  Also, the Education & Programs Team was involved in creating lesson plans (for Teaching Artists and other nonprofits), To Go! Projects (for students to take home or access online), and Family Art Nights (which brought the community together and had parents engage with their children in making art).  This internship has given me a lot of new inspiration that I will use in the future to create positive change through the arts.

Intersections: Arts & Special Education

Stephanie Kistner, Senior Program Coordinator

By Stephanie Kistner, Senior Program Coordinator

For me, summer has always been a time to re-energize, reflect, and plan. Here at P.S. ARTS, it’s much the same. This summer the Programs Team has been busy reflecting on our accomplishments as an organization and planning our programs for the upcoming  year.

As part of the planning process, we annually research and review program models and best practices in the fields of arts and education. There are always exciting and innovative things happening in the arts and education worlds, and we’re eager to learn more about what’s happening in the field, in schools, and in classrooms.

Accessible and equitable arts programming are important values of P.S. ARTS, and with the addition of inclusive arts programs to our roster, utilizing best practices in special education and inclusion programs has been a priority.

Last month I had the opportunity to attend The Kennedy Center’s VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference in Alexandria, Virginia. VSA is a department of the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center that serves as an international organization that promotes arts accessibility for all. VSA also supports arts education opportunities for people with disabilities.

The VSA conference brought together program administrators, teaching artists, arts specialists, classroom teachers, special education teachers, and researchers from across the country to learn more about the arts and special education.

The theme of the conference was “intersections.” Intersections between arts and special education, intersections between classroom teachers and teaching artists, intersections between arts specialists and special education teachers, and intersections between practitioners and researchers. The conference brought together a professional network of individuals who all believe that the arts play an integral role in the education of ALL students.

Students in the P.S. ARTS inclusive arts education program at Grand View Boulevard Elementary.

Students in the P.S. ARTS inclusive music education program at Grand View Boulevard Elementary.

I went to the conference with a mission: to find best practices and exemplar models that we could apply to our classrooms. What I quickly realized, and what I know very well working in education, is that there is not a one-size-fits-all model when it comes to classrooms, special education, and inclusion programs. To me, that is the exciting challenge of teaching, designing, and implementing lessons that fit a wide range of learning styles and that meet the needs of every student in the room.

Some approaches that I enjoyed learning more about and will continue to help P.S. ARTS Teaching Artists implement include:

  • UDL: Universal Design for Learning: UDL is a framework that helps educators design lessons for learners of varying abilities and learning goals. The framework can be applied to virtually any sort of educational setting and lends itself well to arts programming and inclusive, self-directed learning. UDL is central to P.S. ARTS programming and can be seen in all of our classrooms.
  • Social Emotional Learning: This approach is particularly helpful in inclusive classrooms that include students with Emotional Behavior Disorders (EBD) or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It can be difficult for these students to feel safe and comfortable enough to engage and participate in classroom activities. Social Emotional Learning through ensemble building in theater is one approach to reach and include all students as everyone learns together how to recognize, share, and control emotional responses.
  • Inclusion Based Arts Programs: One major take away from this approach was the community effort that it takes to manage and implement successful programs. Community is central to what P.S. ARTS does and this objective directly aligns with our programming. Built-in planning time, information sharing, goal setting, benchmarking plans, and clear methodology and approaches all contribute to student success in areas of increased communication and socialization skills, arts proficiency, and academic learning.

The conference opened with a quote by President John F. Kennedy that largely informs VSA’s work, and which closely resonates with the work of P.S. ARTS:

“I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but…for our contribution to the human spirit.” – President John F. Kennedy

Everything I learned at the VSA conference reinforced our values as an organization, primarily that providing universal access to an education that includes the arts is a matter of social justice, equity, and responsible public policy. I’m constantly inspired by the work that P.S. ARTS does and the change that it seeks to make in the world – in education, in classrooms, and in each and every student that we serve.