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Roseland Elementary School in Santa Rosa enriches students through after-school arts program

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The last line of the lesson plan Steve Ciaffa wrote on the whiteboard Thursday said “make some magic.”

It was a directive for the dozen Roseland Elementary School students squirming in the chairs of his third grade classroom, eager to immerse themselves in the glowing laptops they had just opened for their sixth session of after-school photography class.

About 90% of the students at the southwest Santa Rosa school are eligible for free or reduced lunch, and just as many are under the English learner classification. Sonoma County schools with lower socioeconomic status like Roseland have 35% fewer students enrolled in arts education than wealthier areas, according to the California Department of Education.

Here, they have found a way to counter those statistics.

Roughly half of Roseland Elementary’s 540  students are participating in an after-school enrichment program that is self-funded. It provides eight weeks of classes each semester in subjects suggested by school staff.

In Thursday’s class, Cecilia Cabrera, 9, and Genesis Ruiz, 10, carefully threaded the needle on their sewing machine. School can be a drag, they said, and the thought of continuing the enrichment program in the spring gave them a jolt of energy.

“It can be boring sometimes,” Ruiz said. “But then you do something really fun (like this) after school.”

The second-year enrichment program offers classes like photography, music ensemble and creative arts, while mixing in more unconventional options like Lego building, computer coding, gardening, sewing and even piñata making.

“Part of our vision is that we provide a rich and rigorous learning experience for all kids — kind of the experiences reserved for (gifted) students,” Principal Michelle Leisen said. “All kids deserve that … no matter their socioeconomic status or their economic level. If that’s something we can provide here on campus, then heck yeah, that’s what we’re here for.”

Leisen and Ciaffa, the enrichment coordinator, said the program is part of a longtime goal to expand creative arts opportunities.

After previous attempts to start volunteer programs fizzled, they opted to give Roseland staff a $400 stipend to bring their favorite hobbies to the classroom.

“My hope is always, in any of these activities, if you reach a point where (the students) continue to do it (on their own), then I’ve met my goal,” Ciaffa said.

His lesson Thursday was on photo editing, and Ciaffa did not temper the material for the fourth, fifth and sixth graders. He said he enjoys teaching older students for a change, since they can handle more complex material like photo saturation and manipulating light to get the perfect photograph.

“You can see how it changes the emotion of the photo,” Ciaffa said, as he showed the students how to warm and cool a photo.

Roseland Elementary provides percussion, visual arts, ukulele and different levels of choir to its kindergarten through sixth grade students during the school day.

The after-school enrichment program has become a way to build on many of those skills. The music ensemble class, for example, brings together choir and instrument learning that goes beyond what the students are taught during the day.

The southwest Santa Rosa school has established its arts curriculum with funding sources beyond the district’s allocation, which is used for the kindergarten and first grade music program, Leisen said.

The Assistance League of Sonoma County supports the choir classes. Fifth and sixth graders craft visual art pieces thanks to a donation from the Art4Kids program from the Museums of Sonoma County. A grant from Creative Sonoma made possible the creative arts after-school enrichment class.

The rest are supported by the $10,000 Roseland raises in the community each fall through its Move-a-thon activity day.

In the spring, the entire student body gathers for a showcase when artwork is displayed, the ensemble class performs and every student sings together.

“They just went all out with a different confidence than I’ve ever seen,” Leisen said of the most recent showcase.

You can reach Staff Writer Yousef Baig at 707-521-5390 or yousef.baig@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @YousefBaig.

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