West Palms Conservatory in the Victor Elementary School District, a 2018 California Distinguished School was founded on a simple question: “What if the arts, rather than being considered a luxury or something “extra,” served as the center of instruction?” From this foundation in 2007, West Palms staff created a school that fostering creative thinking, goal-setting and achievement through the exploration of music, language and art.” While arts centered, West Palms operates from a well-defined strategic planning process that not only provides visual and performing arts education to a diverse student population, but also uses data from multiple sources to measure academic progress and drive instruction.
The idea of providing an arts and music programs to over 700 elementary students, and at the same time maintaining high academics, as well as, high attendance rate, sounds like a wonderful idea, but how do we do it? In order to see the full picture we need to start from the beginning, and where the passion for such a program began.
From the outset, West Palms Conservatory sought to provide all children, regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or physical ability, a quality education along with opportunities to experience a wide range of various arts. Unlike some magnet or focus-options schools, which operate using a “school within a school” approach, West Palms Conservatory’s arts program includes every student. West Palms Conservatory serves an essential function for children within the Victorville area. West Palms is located in the high desert, 40 miles north of the city of San Bernardino. Many people know Victorville as a town they travel through of the 15 freeway on their way to Las Vegas.
Our school currently services 60% Hispanic students, many of which are English language learners. Of the 732 students we serve, 69.4% are socioeconomically disadvantaged students. We believe that the arts give students who have not experienced academic success elsewhere an opportunity to shine. It is our goal at West Palms Conservatory to help each student reach his or her fullest potential, by using the creative and performing arts as a foundation for learning, creating, and living a productive life.
Victor Elementary District LCAP and mission is to “inspire purposeful learners who create their futures with confidence, curiosity, innovation, and integrity through engaging learning experiences in safe environments within a supportive culture”. West Palms Conservatory support this believe and takes the commitment of innovative learning to the next level. West Palms Conservatory SPSA states, we are dedicated to fostering creative thinking, goal-setting, and achievement through the exploration of music, language and art, within our daily practices.
Given the vast body of supporting research, West Palms felt confident that it could eliminate achievement gaps by reinforcing high expectations and increasing student engagement by providing numerous art and music participation opportunities throughout the day. Our staff believes that by keeping students active and engaged, positive results would prevail. The data in our SPSA supports our goal and what we believe about the time we spend with our students in the arts and music. Over the past 3 years our Language Arts and Math scores have both increased. Language Arts scores (Met Achievement Standard) in 2015 was 35%, and in 2017 are now 51%. Our Math scores (Met Achievement Standard) in 2015 was 24%, and in 2017 are now 43.1%.
In addition to the academic benefits of an arts education, West Palms anticipated and saw both increased attendance and significantly reduced behavior issues. According to the fall 2017 California Dash Board our school suspension rate has continued to decline. In 2012 our suspensions were at 3.8% and in 2017 down to 1.4% suspensions school wide. One of our Action Plans in West Palms SPSA is Chronic Absenteeism. We believe that if a child is not present even one day we lose an opportunity to make an impact on that child life. Our goal is to build relationships with our community, and making school a place parents want to be a part of. Data in our SPSA shows that over the past 4 years our attendance has increased by 4%.
The question is now how do we run a program that requires time and financial support. West Palms is a site based school, and our funding is spread out according to our site needs. LCAP goal 1, all students will reach their full potential; we have funds set aside for curriculum and materials to teach 4 major artist to all our children each year. We also have funding set aside for professional development for our staff to continue to be trained in the field of the arts. LCAP goal 3, West Palms will partner with all our families as they support their children in reaching their full potential. This goal specifically allows us to offer training for our parents, both to help with academics and with understanding the arts and the vision at West Palms Conservatory. Both of the LCAP goals work together to support our visionary mission to help each student reach his or her fullest potential, by using the creative and performing arts as a foundation for learning, creating, and living a productive life.
Achieving our school’s mission is a community effort. Parents and volunteers are a huge factor in our success. One particular group is our parent support group. We have more than 400 regular volunteers who support our school and its focus on the arts. Some of the supporters include, Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students), a national program that encourages fathers to be a part of their child/grandchild’s educational experience. We also have a group of high school seniors who assist teachers during our daily elective. Our volunteers help in a variety of ways. Volunteers prep materials, as well as support our students with actual one on one instruction with a variety of instruments.
West Palms Conservatory’s staff strives to spark a deep understanding of the arts and create limitless opportunities to explore a variety of the arts in our students. Every member of the staff team brings his or her own special talents and interests including dance, drama, art, musical abilities, and so much more. Electives continue to be a big part of West Palms’ appeal. A West Palms fourth grade teacher, teaches a bluegrass band elective that remains one of the school’s most popular courses. The bluegrass band regularly performs at elderly care facilities, local churches and other community events. Former students routinely come back to West Palms to sit in and sometimes even teach students their respective instruments. Electives include and are not limited to filmmaking, ballet and jazz dance, graphic design, journalism, French, Spanish, musical theater, bluegrass, illusions, violin, flute and stage performance, and many more. While students enjoy electives, an important part of electives is teachers have the opportunity to choose and plan their own electives based on their particular passion/talent for a subject area within the arts.
In addition to our daily 50 minute elective classes for all students, our staff participates in a training every six weeks, discussing and getting a better understand of the depth and complexity of the artists they will be introducing to their homeroom students. The entire teaching staff creates the same piece of art their students will be working on that month. The result has been a more cohesive approach that generates more art school-wide and a more collaborative conversation about the selected artists and composers.
West Palms also has a full-time, credentialed music teacher who instructs each student two hours per week. This instruction culminates into fourteen individual performances school wide and includes music theory, proper vocal techniques, and choreographed dance with vocal and instrumental accompaniment, stage presence, and dramatization skills.
Connecting the art with our community is important to our plan, and one of the ways we do this is to host four family paint nights a year. These events give parents and families the opportunity to learn and socialize, helping reinforce the idea that learning can and should be fun. The paint nights are often an extension of our school’s Meet the Master’s program. Students study four artists a year and create artwork in the style of that artist. Work from Meet the Masters – and from classrooms throughout the school – become the focus for our school’s annual community Art Festival. The Art Festival houses artwork from West Palms’ students and also showcases student musicians, multimedia displays, sculpture, and other artifacts created in classrooms.
Why it Matters
As a staff we believe having an art and music focus, our students are more vested in their school and their education. There is a stronger sense of community, and students enjoy being at school. Simply put, students want to be at West Palms and when students are at school in an environment that promotes creativity and demands the best of its students, good things happen.