Windsor school district receives $1.7 million grant for arts initiative

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Windsor elementary school students will see a visual and performing arts curriculum integrated into their classrooms the upcoming year, along with nearly 500 new iPads and other materials, thanks to a new arts initiative.

The Windsor Unified School District received a $1.7 million grant last month from the California Department of Education to fund the internet-based arts initiative called iAspire, which will reach about 2,500 students from transitional kindergarten to fifth-grade.

“We know that the arts are essential to a well-rounded education. We know that as a district and community we have a long way to go,” Superintendent Brandon Krueger said in the grant application. “Now, it is up to all of us to implement the plan together.”

The plan includes purchasing new books and supplies, writing new curriculum, selecting a program director, supporting teachers with voluntary arts integration training and up to $3,000 in extra pay incentives.

A district study conducted during the 2017-18 school year found that its TK-5 students had no comprehensive curriculum for digital media, dance, music, theater and visual arts. With the grant money in hand, Windsor Unified plans to make a sweeping change, embedding arts into its English Language Arts curriculum across its four elementary schools.

About 72 percent of Windsor teachers surveyed said they did not include arts in their teaching on a regular basis, and 96 percent said professional training would encourage them to integrate the arts in their classrooms.

“One reason that this grant is so important is it helps teachers feel capable,” said Allison Frenzel, Windsor High School dance teacher and program coordinator.

She co-founded Pulse Arts, a nonprofit that will help the district implement the arts initiative.

Arts integration could come in many forms. For example, second-graders in a reading group may go beyond answering the book typical questions and instead integrate theater, writing a play based on the book’s characters and acting it out with their peers.

Frenzel said iPads would be used as a teaching tool. Elementary students could learn media arts and how to make movies on the devices.

Windsor Unified will spend about $230,000 on 490 iPads and about $405,000 in extra pay for teachers. The rest of the grant will cover visual and performing arts supplies, arts and management software, professional learning, project staff and program evaluation costs.

“Visual and performing arts standards should be taught as equally important as math and science,” Frenzel said. “Arts education is essential to fostering creative community, people. It helps to keep students engaged and learning.”

The district must spend the grant funds between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30. It will partner with Big Idea Arts and Education Consulting, CRT Creative and Education Design to help implement the curriculum.

“It’s a very short implementation window,” Frenzel said.

You can reach Staff Writer Susan Minichiello at 707-521-5216 or susan.minichiello@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @susanmini.

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