Thermalito Elementary School District is a rural district in Northern California located on the outskirts of the city of Oroville. As a result of parent interest, funding for the arts found its way into the districts’ LCAP budget. This allowed the district to hire two new VAPA teachers, Visual Arts teacher Rebecca Harvey who started in 2016/17 and Music teacher Gregory Grant who started in 2018/19. Due to the special qualifications of the teachers together with the grade range they teach, the program has the potential to serve as a model in vertical integration of arts education from elementary through high school. The anticipated improved student learning in the arts should be evident in three or four years. The story of these district art teachers warrants a promising best practices spotlight.
While the district has had art and music teachers in the past, the recent hiring of two single subject former high school art teachers to develop visual art and music programs guided by a single conceptual thought is new. The district Visual Arts teacher is beginning her third year in August 2018 and the district Music teacher began his first year in August 2018.
Thermalito Union Elementary School District serves approximately 1,667 students in grades Pre-K through 8th. The district is located in a small rural area near the city of Oroville. Oroville is a small city with a population of 17,996 that serves as the county seat. The median household income in Oroville is low, a little more than half of the household average for the state. Demographics in the city are 62% European American, 13% Latino, 11% Asian, and 5% Africa American. Twenty-six percent of the population lives below the poverty line, which is higher than the national average of 14%.
The Thermalito Elementary School District consists of one middle school, three elementary schools, two community day schools, and one preschool. According to the 2017 CALPADS report, the ethnicities represented in Thermalito Elementary School District are: White 43%, Asian 28%, Hispanic 13%, American Indian/Alaskan Native 4%, African American 2%, and other, multiple, or not reported 10%. As determined by state LCAP measures 90% of students are low socioeconomically and disadvantaged.
Approximately 18% of Thermalito’s student population is made up of English Learners, with another 16% reclassified fluent English proficient. Hmong is the native language of 79% of the English Learners, 13% Spanish and 8% other.
All of the schools in the district are Title I schools. The majority of students in the district attend the three elementary schools and one middle school which receive Visual Art and Music instruction.
Rebecca Harvey teaches at four district sites and maintains art rooms at each location verses the art on a cart approach at the schools in the one other district in the county that provides art teachers at the elementary school level. She teaches grades 2 through 5 at the elementary schools, two classes per month. She teaches two periods every day at Nelson Avenue Middle School. Rebecca Harvey started her teaching career at the high school level after earning her Masters in Art History and a single subject teaching credential. Similar to Music teacher Gregory Grant’s teaching background, she benefits from experience with high school art standards which allows her to teach her students with that end goal in mind. Another benefit is continuity, after several years of teaching in the district, Harvey will have taught every child.
Greg Grant teaches music to each TK through 5th grader in the three elementary schools two times per month. Administrators at those schools are very supportive of the music program and have set aside music rooms. He teachers three middle school music classes every day. Grant earned a Masters degree in Music Education and started his teaching career more than 20 years ago, mostly in urban high schools. Coming to the district with this experience and perspective allows him to see any holes in the curriculum that would limit students from successfully continuing their music education into the high school program.
Both Harvey and Grant are well trained broad thinkers. As stated above, these two teachers are focused on vertically aligning the arts education program for elementary and middle school students that will link them to a high school program.
An immediate outcome in the Thermalito District is that students in this low-income rural part of California now have access to standards based sequential learning in arts education.
Future outcomes to look for are that students will be better prepared for high school arts education and that Visual Art and Music classes will be the cornerstone of the schools instead of just something some kids can do. This is an exciting district to watch.