Arts Education in Rural Communities

Amador County

Name of County: Amador County Office of Education
Region: 6
County Superintendent: Torie Gibson, Amador County Superintendent of Schools
Cohort Lead: Donna Custodio, Arts Coordinator
County Arts Lead: Sean Snider

The schools and communities are nestled in the heart of the Gold Country in the Sierra Nevada Foothills.

Amador County is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California and approximately 45 miles southeast of Sacramento in a part of California known as the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The Amador County Office of Education (ACOE) has one school district that serves a little over 4,000 students. The schools and communities are nestled in the heart of the Gold Country in the Sierra Nevada Foothills. Amador County ranges in elevation from 250 feet in the western portion of the county to over 9,000 feet in the eastern portion of the county. There are a variety of quality schools including two comprehensive high schools, one alternative high school, two junior high schools, six elementary schools, and an independent study program.

Unique Characteristics

Amador County spreads out geographically over a large rural area. Many students travel  60 minutes or more by bus to get to school  which makes after-school opportunities difficult. The communities have a high poverty rate, which varies from 40% to 67% per school. Amador County has limited access to community college offerings or trade schools. The county has the second highest suicide rate in California. Many children living in Amador County have experienced some kind of trauma and 65% of the residents have experienced some childhood adversity. 

Key Strategic Goals of the County Strategic Arts Plan

In July of 2018, The Amador Arts Planning Initiative established an Arts Planning Team that convened for three days to develop a 3-5 year strategic plan for arts education. Through a consensus building process with a diverse stakeholder team, the following vision elements were created to begin advancing arts education TK-12 across the district. Below are the Strategic Directions from our Arts Plan:

Sustainable Funding, Communication, and Outreach

Goal 1:  Identify and Develop Funding Sources

Develop outreach strategies and assist with funding opportunities.  Members will be advocates for the arts at each school.  

Goal 2:  Develop Communication and Outreach Strategies  

Establish a committee with a member from each of the eleven schools in the county. The committee will work on outreach strategies, advocating for the arts at their schools, funding opportunities, and showcasing student work. The Arts Committee will also help provide schools with information regarding the new Arts Standards and the Framework when it becomes available.  

District Support, Administration and Personnel

Goal 1:  Secure and Coordinate Implementation 

Build the capacity of arts educators in our county. Arts Committee members and the arts integration teachers will keep their school sites informed with the information they receive at committee meetings and trainings.  

Goal 2:  Implement District Led Professional Development 

Train 20 teachers in arts integration. This will include representatives from each of our TK-8th grade schools and they will be from various grade levels.  Materials will be provided.  

Develop Student Focused Content

Goal 1: Provide Access to Equitable Quality Instruction

The Arts Committee will help identify gaps in programs at each school and make recommendations for improvement. They will also increase awareness of California Education Codes that require arts instruction.  

Currently, there are varied offerings in arts education in our county. Each school differs in what is offered. Our middle schools have a band program but not all of our elementary schools have a band program to feed into the middle schools. Arts programs are mainly supported by parent groups and each school differs on what it offers. ACOE continues to seek to include arts in the LCAP process to expand arts offerings in the county.

Goal 2: Implement Career Pathways in the Arts

There is an absence of rigorous, standards-based scope and course of instruction and arts curriculum countywide. The Arts Committee will help with implementation of the standards countywide and advocate for career pathways in the arts. They will identify and recognize exemplary practices in the arts during our arts showcases. They will also work with potential employers and stakeholders to develop scholarships and internships for students in the Creative Economy.  

Highlights and Strategic Directions Taken in the Implementation of the Strategic Arts Plan

Implementation Goals
  • To convene the District Arts Committee for planning and advocacy.
  • To offer¬† arts integration professional development.

Highlighted Accomplishments

The professional development¬† and the District Arts Committee have been the highlights ‚Äď The number of students receiving some instruction in the arts increased¬† from very few to at least a 1,000 students.

ACOE provided interdisciplinary arts professional development for 20 teachers. They were very excited about the professional development¬†and have tried each project. They don‚Äôt see arts as an “add on”, but as a critical to student learning. An example of this is a 4th grade teacher used dance and music in a California history lesson. She was provided with links to websites that helped her incorporate music and square dancing.

Currently, the school district is in the process of using Local County Accountability Plan (LCAP) for the arts. The funding level went from zero to $40,000 for eight elementary and middle schools to integrate the arts and this may happen again this year. The local arts council, AmadorArts is a big advocate for the arts in the schools. The District Arts Committee works hand-in-hand with the arts council.

Greatest Advances

People are talking about the arts more which is building more support for the arts in the county. The teachers and the District Arts Committee did a book study using Artful Teaching by David Donahue and STEAM and Integration by Jack Cofield. 

The PD has had a great impact in our county and helped to build  awareness of the importance of the arts to learning and the benefits for students. Arts integration in their classrooms sparked  the students’ interest and made them want to engage at a personal level. They are receiving opportunities to be creative and express themselves and to grow to be creative persons and make it happen. Arts makes it personal.

While it was a slow process working with 20 teachers at a time, the professional learning helped to impact others. They wrote a strategic plan two years ago and this funding source finally got them started along with the LCAP funds.  

What lessons are you learning through the implementation of your arts plan?

Content: Teaching and Learning in and through the Arts/Professional Development.

Many of the teachers in our county are not comfortable teaching the arts. They need training. Many teachers were hesitant to teach the arts, since they are not arts specialist teachers. They did not initially see themselves as qualified to teach the arts. Through professional development, they are able to see how they can incorporate the arts into the classroom. For example, they are learning that they can bring music into the classroom through using rhythm, and theatre through Reader’s Theatre. 

Infrastructure: Teaching Staff/ Facilities/ Resources

This has been a struggle, because they are rural and so spread out with small schools that have needs in many  areas. For example, it is hard to provide resources to a school of 350 junior high students. Logistical problems exist as there are not funds for teachers to travel great distances. One teacher serves 4-5 different schools. We are learning that there is slow growth. For example, we now have some high school music teachers (a high priority).  While we lost a band program, we now see that it is coming back.  Growth takes time.  

Collaborations/Partnerships: Networks/Cross-County Collaboration(s); Interdisciplinary programs/efforts

Amador collaborates with Amador Arts Council and this has resulted in excellent work. The Amador Arts Council tries to get funding and does fundraisers for the schools. Some schools separately do fundraisers for the arts, but not all. Sutter Creek offered professional development as a result of the funding. Another example of partnership is how we have worked with another county office of education. For example, Amy Bultena, Arts Coordinator from the Stanislaus County Office of Education  trained 50 teachers last year, 20 of them went to the PD this year.

Sustainability: Funding/ Program Evaluation/Effective Use of Data /Community Involvement/ Advocacy

We see the need to continue to advocate for quality learning for Amador County students. We work with Megan O’Keefe, Executive Director for the Arts Council, who  does effective arts advocacy. For sustainability, schools will  write the arts into LCAP again. The data shows that they offer a lot of art options in high school theatre, music, visual arts, and media arts and they have a career pathway. 

Adoption of The Declaration of the Rights of All Students to Equity in Arts Learning

The county /district school board did adopt this and the Strategic Plan, which has helped us move forward with strategic goals.  

Technology to support Arts Learning

Our Amador schools have technology for media arts and technology career pathway classes.

Value Statement – How has this work been valuable for your county?

The grant has been very valuable. The implementation grant has allowed Amador County to move forward in implementing the strategic plan.  This could not have happened without the funding from this CCSESA grant program.
– Donna Custodio, Grant Lead and Director of State Pre-School, Amador County Office of Education


The Arts Grant Integration training was a vital catalyst for me. The quality of the training as well as the access to materials and projects was superior. I found the training to be enlightening and empowering for me as a teacher. The arts build important foundational skills and links within the brain for processing other academics and profoundly influence the reasoning abilities. It was a pleasure to take part in the training and even better, to carry the lessons back to my classroom and implement them with the second graders. I was enthusiastic, they were enthusiastic and we both learned a lot!
– Idamae Isotalo, 2nd Grade Teacher, Sutter Creek Primary

Arts are important to me because they help me to be creative and keep me from being bored. Art at school is awesome because I am having fun and learning so much more. I look forward to art projects, they help break up my days.
РHannah G. 4th grade 

The  arts integration classes gave me the  tools I needed to plan and implement the arts in my classroom in a way that enriches our standards and curriculum.
– Paula Romo, 5th grade teacher