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If we could forget that education never existed and start over, what would it be like?

It’s a question – originally posed by Project Zero of the Harvard Graduate School of Education – that Bill Funkhouser, an arts education specialist for the Humboldt County Office of Education, keeps in mind.

“For me, that’s kind of what creative education is. It’s about saying, “Let’s just forget about all that education baggage we have and really think about what works. What creates a collaborative and creative classroom community? ‘ »Said Funkhouser to Outpost.

HCOE recently learned that it is the recipient of a $ 3.3 million federal grant that will fund a program to bring socio-emotional learning through the arts to three local schools. The scope and objectives of the project – which will be called ArtSEL (Art / Social-Emotional Learning) – remind Funkhouser, which coordinates the program, of this question: What would a clean slate look like for education?

On the one hand, he believes it would involve a healthy and cohesive dose of socio-emotional learning practices, integrated into all aspects of a student’s day at school. Socio-emotional learning is about guiding students towards development anybody skills – things that are not necessarily in the curriculum, such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and decision-making. Socio-emotional learning is not a new educational concept, but its application has exploded in recent years as more and more young people face mental health issues.

“We’re so focused on test results and that sort of thing. And we ask ourselves, “Why aren’t they succeeding?” ”, Said Funkhouser. “And I think often the answer is, well, what are we doing to meet their socio-emotional needs?”

Some teachers shy away from this responsibility, Funkhouser said, believing that it is up to parents to teach these skills to their children at home.

“I just see this as a real missed opportunity because at home they don’t have 30 other people from different backgrounds,” he said. “What a great opportunity to have the chance to communicate, collaborate, work creatively in a classroom community, isn’t it? And that’s what we’re looking for. That’s what we’re trying to establish here.

ArtSEL will run for five years and benefit three local K-8 schools to be determined. Every staff member of participating schools, from teachers to bus drivers and administrators, will undergo training in socio-emotional learning, which in the first year and with ongoing support over the next four. , will accumulate in hundreds of hours of training.

“We want everyone who might be involved in this child’s life to have been trained in what it means to understand socio-emotional learning. [and] to understand what creativity looks like, ”said Funkhouser. “We believe that anyone who interacts with children in these schools has the potential to make a difference. “

Stacy Young, director of the arts program at HCOE and director of ArtSEL, said there was rarely the funding to train staff in such a broad area. “Every adult in the life of a student has the opportunity to grow thanks to this grant,” Young told the Outpost. “It really makes sense for the students.”

Still deep in the pandemic, addressing the social and emotional needs of children is more important than ever, Young said, noting that this year’s third-graders have not had a normal school year since kindergarten. . “You look at these structures and social norms that have been disrupted. I would say this grant would be useful in any school in the United States, ”Young said.

Added to this are the high rates of foster children and homeless children in Humboldt, making the implementation of socio-emotional learning even more essential, Funkhouser said.

In many cases, art is the perfect vessel for teaching socio-emotional skills.

“We believe that children learn and thrive when their socio-emotional needs are met. And we believe the arts are a natural way to meet those needs, ”said Funkhouser. Staff training will focus on how to implement socio-emotional learning into the core curriculum, which can often be achieved through the arts.

For example, a collaborative art project can introduce young children to a multitude of socio-emotional skills.

“They have to learn to communicate what they think the artwork should look like, they have to learn to compromise,” Funkhouser said. “Then [the students] do this work of art and none of [them] own.”

Funkhouser referred to a specific lesson that he and (out of the box) Professor Jonathan Juravich collaborated to develop. Based on Arree Chung’s children’s book “Mixed” – which talks about a world where primary colors discover mixing after living apart from each other – the lesson, on the surface, is simply to mix the colors of the paint.

“It’s easier to talk about it in book terms, because there’s this distance of” Oh, we’re just talking about red and yellow, we’re not talking about racism, we’re not talking about xenophobia, we’re talking about are not talking about difficult topics yet. ‘ But we’re getting there, ”Funkhouser said. “I think this is an example of how SEL and the arts really work together.”

Funkhouser and Young agree that the arts are not valued enough in today’s classrooms. Too often the arts are reserved after other learning – like math, science and languages ​​- is completed, Funkhouser said, even though art can be integrated into and reinforce all subjects, and even if the benefits of the arts are vast, such as the socio-emotional learning that can accompany them.

“This is an academic grant, where higher order thinking is at the top of our goals, but it’s through the arts,” Funkhouser said.

Funkhouser and Young are enthusiastic and confident about the project, which has already got off to a promising start. Out of 109 applicants to the United States Department of Education, HCOE was one of 27 proposals that received a grant, and the application scored 298 out of 300 points.

ArtSEL is the second federally funded program that HCOE’s arts program has received and the fourth grant-funded program that Funkhouser has coordinated. The resources used and developed during these programs are all available at artsintegration.net, which has accumulated hundreds of pages and is visited by tens of thousands of users each year. Funkhouser is launching a new website – artsel.org – where all the resources developed for ArtSEL will be posted.

“[We’re] changing education in our community for children and future citizens of our region, ”said Funkhouser. “I think we are making a difference.


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