There's a place for art in all Renton elementary schools | LIFE IN THE CITY
By CAROLYN OSSORIO
Renton Reporter Columnist
March 22, 2013 · Updated 2:38 PM
“I’m looking anywhere — is there anyone out there to support my cause?” Kevin McPherson said recently. Though I didn’t know him well, he wore a determined expression tinged with mild bewilderment – a “does-not-compute” look.
Kevin’s urgent plea sounded desperate — but not without hope — like a distress call sent across the airwaves of a destroyed landscape in some dystopian movie featuring aliens or zombies.
Thankfully, Kevin and I were just talking about kids and art in Renton, something he is knowledgeable and passionate about.
And I was sitting comfortably on a couch watching my 9-year-old Amelia finishing up her weekly art lesson in Kevin’s art studio that also doubles as the family home.
I had come to know Kevin from a referral. I was looking for one-on-one art instruction for Amelia.
As it turns out, Kevin was a perfect match — talented artist meets PTA dad who understands and respects the importance of kids and art. The Kennydale home that he shares with his wife and three kids, Vivian, 11, Olivia, 9, and Wesley, 4, is a brightly colored space filled with light and warmth. Amelia loved going there.
Kevin’s daughters Vivian and Olivia are both students at Kennydale Elementary School, an elementary school that was in the news recently for academic excellence, and Kevin has been a volunteer art docent at Kennydale for seven years.
“I believe the art program we have created at Kennydale has a lot to do with Kennydale Elementary’s success and recognition and something I’d like to bring to all Renton elementary schools,” Kevin said.
As the PTA Art Docent chairperson at Kennydale, Kevin oversees Kennydale Elementary School’s very successful
volunteer art-docent program.
“What exactly does a volunteer art docent at Kennydale do?” I asked.
“Volunteers are assigned to classes where they introduce a well-known art print, facilitate a conversation with the students about the print and provide an art project associated with the print. One art docent is needed for each teacher and the commitment is one to two hours each month. Students learn art history, art appreciation and art concepts and elements which help improve critical thinking, problem solving and social skills. High school students who take one or more years of art produce higher scores on the SAT,” Kevin said, as he turned his attention back to Amelia.
“You did a really great job today, Amelia,” Kevin said, as he began collating Amelia’s work.
Surrounded by the framed art of Kevin and his children, it wasn’t hard to see where Kevin’s passion for the art-docent program comes from.
Art’s effect on kids cannot be measured in widgets and quantitative data.
I can see its effects on my own kids and as a mom to four who has spent a lot of time volunteering in elementary schools I have seen its effects on their peers and I can remember how art of all genres had a lasting effect on me as a kid.
I vividly remember the art I created in elementary school: ripping old newspapers into strips and slathering the strips with sticky goo onto a blown-up balloon and when it dried, we painted the “globe.” I didn’t know I was learning about geography – I was just having fun. Or gluing macaroni to a paper plate and spraying it with silver and gold spray paint. Having the freedom to create my own story on brightly colored construction paper. Art and creativity were the things I looked forward to in school.
“Currently, there are just three of 14 elementary schools in the Renton School District with a volunteer art-docent program, creating a need to promote and implement the art-docent program throughout the district,” Kevin explained.
This past November, with a little help from an Allied Arts grant, Kevin submitted a proposal to the Renton School District detailing a plan of action to provide an art-docent curriculum for all the other 11 Renton elementary schools that currently don’t have an organized volunteer program. The proposal includes a request for funding to create a part-time position for Kevin to facilitate this process.
“I believe we need to create equal access to art education for all students and I am excited to spearhead this effort. I’ve enjoyed my time as a volunteer. But this position is bigger than a volunteer position. I want to grow it into what it really deserves, so all kids in Renton have access to art.
Kevin is still optimistically awaiting a response from the Renton School District to his proposal.
“Honestly, how do you keep the passion going?” I asked.
“My passion for kids and art comes from the artist in me. The early years of child development are critical for forming long-lasting skills in art and understanding the value of self-expression. I believe that I can pass on my knowledge of art and make a difference in their lives. As for my persistent pursuit, the more kids I can reach the better because every kid deserves the chance to discover their talent!”
“See you next week Mr. McPherson!” Amelia said, holding on to her art portfolio.
“Mommy, I just love working with Mr. McPherson and doing art,” Amelia exclaimed, as we headed home. The smile on her face was a million miles long and full of promise.
We live in a city known for its amazing force of volunteers.
Given Kevin’s patience, talent and tenacity, I have no doubt one day soon all elementary school kids will have access to an art-docent program like Kennydale’s.Contact Renton Reporter Columnist Carolyn Ossorio at firstname.lastname@example.org.