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In the name of art: Cedar Ridge teacher tries to expand middle school offerings

Carrie Scaife noticed incoming Cedar Ridge Middle School students had a foundation in art from elementary school and even greater opportunities awaiting in high school. But the eighth grade language arts teacher did not see many offerings at the middle school level.

Inspired to bring more arts to Cedar Ridge students, Scaife has applied for an arts grant from the Oregon Arts Commission. She envisions infusing the already-established after-school program at Cedar Ridge with fine arts once grant funding is in place for the 2012-13 school year.

In its current form, the after-school program is administered by local nonprofit Todos Juntos and receives funding through the Children, Youth and Families Department of Clackamas County, providing an enrichment program, community service classes and academic enrichment.

Kirsten Pitzer, community school site coordinator, said students regularly ask for more arts projects, including painting, drawing, drama and media production.

Pitzer, too, sees the benefit of providing middle school students with more arts education, and is partnering with Scaife.

'I truly believe that the more opportunities students have to express their creativity, the more confidence they feel and the better prepared they may be in other areas of life,' Pitzer said. 'Students learn different ways to explore and express their emotions, and they also learn communication skills.'

Scaife and Pitzer said they did not think the lack of arts at Cedar Ridge had anything to do with the district or administrators, but instead a lack of funding resources.

Superintendent Aaron Bayer commended Scaife for going 'above and beyond for students' in her efforts to introduce more arts education to the middle school.

Scaife, who has a bachelor's degree in film, once introduced a media arts elective to the middle school, bringing in cameras acquired through a film company connection. She was under liability with the equipment, though, and seeks resources such as cameras, paint, paintbrushes and drawing paper to complement instruction by local artists who are willing to volunteer their time.

Scaife and Pitzer encourage community members interested in their efforts to attend future arts events at the middle school and volunteer as instructors.

'It's one thing to hire people from outside the community to educate the students, but it's a lot more meaningful to show them that their own community supports them,' Pietzer said.

Scaife added it would be helpful to have additional community members write grant applications, letters and recommendations for middle school arts education to accompany her grant application.

The after-school program at the middle school has been in place for six years. It was originally funded by Catholic Charities before the Children, Youth and Families Department began funding it.

Pietzer, who was hired early in the program, said she has worked closely with administration, school staff and parents to continually improve and enhance programs for students.

Because the school can no longer accommodate as many electives, Pietzer said, the program tries to 'fill the gap' by providing activities that enhance student learning and creativity.

'We have a few arts-centered programs already in place, but each class can only hold 10 students,' Pietzer said. 'Out of the nearly 400 students who attend Cedar Ridge, that's not very many.'

According to a University of California-Los Angeles study of more than 25,000 middle and high school students, researchers found students with high arts involvement performed better on standardized tests than students with low arts involvement.

Additionally, these students watched fewer hours of television, participated in more community service and reported less boredom in school.

For more information about the grant and Scaife and Pietzer's vision for middle school arts education, email Scaife at Carrie

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