Arts Education in Rural Communities

Humboldt County

Name of County: Humboldt County Office of Education
Region: 1
County Superintendent: Michael Davies-Hughes, Humboldt County Superintendent of Schools
Cohort Lead: Stacy Young, Visual & Performing Arts Program Manager and Region 1 Arts Lead

Humboldt County is a densely forested mountainous and rural county with about 110 miles of coastline (more than any other county in the state), situated along the Pacific coast in Northern California’s rugged coast mountain ranges.

About Humboldt County

Humboldt County is located on the far North Coast, about 270 miles north of San Francisco.

Its primary population centers of Eureka, the site of College of the Redwoods main campus, and the smaller college town of Arcata, site of Humboldt State University, are located adjacent to Humboldt Bay, California’s second largest natural bay. Humboldt County is a densely forested mountainous and rural county with about 110 miles of coastline (more than any other county in the state), situated along the Pacific coast in Northern California’s rugged Coast Mountain Ranges.

Humboldt County Office of Education (HCOE) serves 32 school districts from the very rural (designated as Frontier by the California Department of Education) of 8 students to our largest of less than 4,000 students. In total, our 7,000 sq. mile county has 19,000 students. Stacy Young serves as the Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) Coordinator for each district. 

Unique Characteristics

Humboldt County has one of the largest Native populations in California. Humboldt County has eight Native American reservations within its borders. The Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation is 

the largest in the state of California. Many historical sites represent the culture and heritage of populations that existed in Humboldt County prior to European settlement. There are many sites of special significance to Native Americans, primarily coastlines and riverbanks with outstanding religious and resource-producing importance.


There is a fine political dance that takes place as to who represents the Native American population and which languages and ceremonies are heralded. There is not a grocery store within an hour drive of the reservation. It costs $1,000 to bring one bus to Eureka for the symphony or a play. Humboldt’s Adverse Childhood Experience Scores (ACES) scores are among the highest in the state and three times higher than the national average.

There is one dedicated north/south internet line and when it goes down anywhere between the northern border and Santa Rosa, we have no access to debit/credit cards: no purchasing gas, groceries, etc. When the Santa Rosa fires happened, Humboldt County had schools without internet and phone lines for two weeks. Some districts in the county must use pencil/paper to take their CAASSP tests. Our superintendent/principals hold multiple jobs. The one in Greenpoint also drives the bus, teaches classes and serves as the superintendent/principal. 

There isn’t a flight to Sacramento within a four hour drive of here (Sacramento is a six hour drive). To fly anywhere is prohibitively expensive and time consuming as all three daily flights go to either LA or SF. We don’t have a Home Depot, national book store, Lowe’s, or Trader Joe’s in our county. We have principals that share schools. We have a principal in Southern Humboldt that has three schools and to travel to each one takes 6 hours (without returning to the point of origin).

The opioid epidemic has really impacted our demographics. One of our school districts has 10% identified homeless students. In the last 15 years, we’ve lost logging and fishing as our prime economic strands. With marijuana becoming legalized, our typical family farmer has lost their incomes. These incomes paid for services in our schools. The large corporations that have come in with legalization are not sponsoring their kids’ music teacher. For example, Stacy Young’s former music position at Trinidad School was solely funded by parents’ fund raising efforts. They also funded the art teacher and Ocean studies month.   

Key Goals of County Strategic Arts Plan

  • Ensure that all students receive equitable, high quality, standards-based, articulated and sequential arts instruction;
  • Provide all teachers arts subject-specific professional development (PD);
  • Provide all teachers arts integration professional learning opportunities;
  • Connect Humboldt County schools with community stakeholders for their mutual benefit;
  • Make visible to policy makers, community, and educators the essential learning in visual and performing arts;
  • Coordinate human, creative, and financial resources for the sustainability of arts education programs; and
  • Include arts education funding in each Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP). 

Highlights and Strategic Directions Taken In Implementation of Strategic Arts Plan

Stated Implementation Strategies:
We provide all teachers arts subject specific professional development, in particular the new Arts Standards. Additionally, we offered all teachers arts integration professional development in which arts standards are also taught. 

Highlighted Accomplishments: 
One key accomplishment has been implementing ongoing, consistent professional development for 100 K-8 teachers in arts integration. Each teacher received 45 hours of professional development. (High Quality Arts Ed, Elements 2-3). HCOE offered ongoing, consistent professional development for area subject teachers. A typical year is six hours of professional development. Due to the COVID-19, arts teachers are meeting virtually every week for an hour. Projections are that they will receive 12-15 hours of professional development this year (High Quality Arts Ed, Element 1).


80% of our trainings are in arts integration and the standards; we work with 93 teachers in 4 counties in visual art. Next year is our theatre arts integration year.

Humboldt County Office offered The Creative Education Symposium, which was transitioned to an online symposium (recorded) that reached 65 educators from all over CA including FCOE, TCOE, StanCOE, LACOE, Sonoma COE and more. With the online recording, we anticipate greater reach. Arts standards are always addressed in trainings.

A database was created that included lessons and resources. (Assess Resources and Connect Community, Element 1) Data collection from schools (Promote and Advocate, Element 2). We provided these lessons on the HCOE website: which has increased the capacity of teachers, districts, and counties to deliver arts.

HCOE offered weekly Zoom meetings (Brown bag arts zoom) with each discipline specific group of teachers has increased their capacity and networking.

The California Arts Education Data Project has informed our county capacity building efforts. Districts are looking at the data and seeing how they can increase access to the arts. The district discussions regarding LCAP and discussions regarding shared arts specialists to serve ultra-small districts.

CA Music Educators Association (CMEA) have used CAEDP to inform statewide sessions on rural music.

What Lessons Are You Learning Through the Implementation of Your Strategic Arts Plan?

Content: Teaching and Learning in and through the Arts through professional learning and support. One off workshops don’t facilitate ongoing change in the classroom. Continuous support is needed for change. 

Infrastructure: Teaching Staff/Facilities/Resources – We are learning that many of our districts don’t have the infrastructure to implement the arts. While we continue to work for equity and access, the reality is that there is uneven distribution of the arts in our county.  

Collaborations/Partnerships: Networks/Cross-County Collaboration(s); Interdisciplinary programs/efforts. Our CCSESA network is key to so much of the work being done right now, especially our efforts to offer online learning. We are networking more than ever – THANK YOU! 

Sustainability: Funding/Program Evaluation/Effective Use of Data /Community Involvement/Advocacy – Humboldt County Office of Education continues to work toward using data and advocacy to create momentum for the arts and to involve stakeholders in communities across the county.   

Adoption of The Declaration of the Rights of All Students to Equity in Arts Learning or other policies: The Declaration was adopted by HCOE and by two other school districts. While the declaration resolution is more of a philosophical statement, some districts are afraid of the financial implications. 

Technology to support Arts Learning: Technology and support for online learning is especially relevant due to COVID-19. This is also an equity and access point. Students who don’t have access at this time, are really struggling to stay connected with their teachers and classmates. 

What have you seen as the greatest advances as a result of implementing your strategic plan? 

Teachers are loving the arts integration training and support. Use of these strategies is making change in their classrooms. We have several districts exploring the option of together hiring an itinerant arts teacher.

Districts are looking at and analyzing arts data. 

As a result of your implementation what practices are making an impact?

Ongoing professional development is delivered in a coaching style, rather than a workshop and this  model  is really changing how teachers feel about themselves as arts integration teachers. It’s also elevating their relationship with arts teachers. 

What have you seen change in your county as a result of this implementation support? 

More people are requesting more professional development and coaching. 

Value Statement – How Has This Work Been Valuable for Your County?

The elevation of having CCSESA and the Stuart Foundation understand that rural counties have unique needs and challenges, is huge. When state organizations make this a focus of their work, then it is important to more people. Given that 57 of 58 California counties have rural schools, this has been a game changer. 


Access to a contemporary, innovative, and high quality arts education is essential for all students. Humboldt County is an incubator for artists and the Humboldt County Office of Education (HCOE) serves as a catalyst and collaborator with schools and local organizations in program design, offering relevant professional development, providing engaging student experiences and advocating for the arts at the regional and state level. Student success is our top priority and the integration of a vibrant arts education not only improves student outcomes but fosters school culture that promotes community, connectivity and joy! Let the Arts Shine!”
– Dr. Chris Hartley, Humboldt County Superintendent of Schools

Eureka sits nestled in the middle of nature’s masterpiece including forests, oceans, rivers and more. Eureka, itself, is a micropolitan community. As the County Seat and largest city in hundreds of miles in any direction, it is the cultural center for the north coast region. With such a small population, the community boasts a cultural art district, several live performance studios, a poet laureate program and an active arts community that rivals fishing as an economic driver. Children who are raised in Eureka are infused with art, from opportunities provided in schools and the communities. Art is a significant contributor to quality of life for both residents and visitors.
 – Susan Seaman, Mayor, Eureka, CA

Learning to teach through the arts will be the salvation of my teaching career.
– 3rd grade teacher

So much of what is done in schools could be programmed into computers.  The correct spelling of words, algorithms for arithmetic, historical dates, and vocabulary definitions. Yet, what separates us from computers is our humanity, our passions, our confusion, and our wonder.  These are the things that the arts strengthen.  

The musician moved to tears over the sound of a sequence of notes.  

The painter expressing anger, love, or loss.  

The musician moved to tears over the sound of a sequence of notes.  

The painter expressing anger, love, or loss.  

The actor conveying relationships or whimsy.

The dancer expressing with their body that which cannot be said in words.  

These are the things that make us human.  Without these things, what is the point of our fragility and our humanity?  

The arts matter because, with them, we matter.
– Bill Funkhouser, Arts Learning Specialist, HCOE  

The arts are critical tools for helping people imagine new forms, visions, and ideas. Artists take the substance of the personal and collective imagination and then articulate new possibilities of being. We absolutely need the arts during this pivotal time for society. Artists are practiced in taking the material conditions of life and forming new visions. Art can turn uncertainty into possibility.
– Leslie Castalleno, Councilmember, City of Eureka and Artist

The funding through the CCSESA Rural Arts Cohort grant allowed us to connect many efforts and tie up loose ends. Often we have various people working on multiple projects simultaneously. This funding allows everyone to be brought to the same page. Thank you!
– Stacy Young, Visual & Performing Arts Program Manager and Region 1 Arts Lead