Arts Education in Rural Communities
Name of County: Mariposa County Office of Education
County Superintendent: Jeff Aranguena, Mariposa County Superintendent of Schools
Cohort Lead: Cara Goger, Visual and Performing Arts Consultant
Mariposa County is a small, rural county located to the east of the San Joaquin Valley in central California. It is located in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, north of Fresno and east of Merced, and southeast of Stockton. The county’s eastern section is the central portion of Yosemite National Park.
About Mariposa County
Mariposa County was one of the original counties of California, created at the time of statehood in 1850. While it began as the state’s largest county, territory that was once part of Mariposa was ceded over time to form all or part of twelve other counties, including all Merced, Madera, Fresno, Tulare, Kings, and Kern; and parts of San Benito, Mono, Inyo, and San Bernardino, and Los Angeles. Thus, Mariposa County is known as the “Mother of Counties.”
Mariposa County is a small, rural county located to the east of the San Joaquin Valley in central California. It is s located in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, north of Fresno and east of Merced, and southeast of Stockton. The county’s eastern section is the central portion of Yosemite National Park.
Mariposa is one of seven single-district counties in California, whereby the organization functions as both county office of education and district office. Mariposa County’s elevation varies from 300 to 11,000 feet above sea level, with geological features ranging from rolling foothills to mountain forests and alpine terrain. Its population is estimated to be 18,150, which is disbursed in small pockets throughout the county, with heavier concentrations in Mariposa, Catheys Valley, Bootjack, Coulterville/Greeley Hill/Don Pedro, and Yosemite. A wide variety of social and community services are provided in Mariposa proper, the unincorporated county seat. Some agencies also provide services in the Coulterville/Greeley Hill/Don Pedro and Yosemite communities, which are geographically removed. However, such services and programs are limited in nature and often impacted due to the high need of the community.
Mariposa County Unified School District (MCUSD) has approximately 1,700 Transitional Kindergarten through 12th grade students attending the district’s six elementary schools, three high schools (two small necessary schools and one accredited comprehensive high school), and other alternative education programs. MCUSD employs more than 300 full and part-time staff members. Several of the schools, including Lake Don Pedro Elementary, Greeley Hill Elementary/Coulterville High School, Yosemite National Park Valley Elementary, and Yosemite National Park El Portal, are over an hour’s drive from the district office. To facilitate regular school attendance, the District currently operates 23 bus routes, with our drivers driving over 500,000 miles per year. The 22% poverty rate in Mariposa County is an issue that factors into family engagement. Due to both geographic and economic reasons, many parents find it difficult to attend school and district meetings.
Description of the Arts Strategic Planning Process
The Mariposa County Strategic Art Plan was designed to provide a clear pathway forward for the Mariposa County Office of Education/Mariposa County Unified School District and members of Mariposa’s community working to support quality arts education for Mariposa’s youth. Developed by the County’s educational administrators, teachers, artists, parents, students, community organizations and interested citizens this plan is specific to Mariposa and reflects the nuanced nature of the community.
The committee honestly considered the many challenges and limitations the County faces with respect to arts learning and the plan offered thoughtful and achievable solutions, leveraged by the community’s many assets to grow and sustain high quality, equitable and sequential arts education for every one of Mariposa’s students. Most importantly, the planning process helped builds the capacity and infrastructure needed for effective collective impact, grafting and nurturing the community’s connective tissue, and creating the support mechanism to coalesce disparate arts education initiatives into a cohesive, robust and vital creative ecosystem benefiting not only its youth, but the entirety of Mariposa.
Strategic Planning Arts Team Members
- Ryan Ballinger – Principal of the Mariposa County Alternative Education Center, MCOE/MCUSD
- Phyllis Becker – Teaching Artist/Community Artist
- Jen Beavers – Woodland Elementary 3rd Grade Teacher, MCUSD
- Pete Bothwell – Mariposa County High School Visual Art Teacher, MCUSD
- Rose Fluharty – Mariposa County After School Program (Middle School), MCOE/MCUSD
- Cara Goger – Executive Director, Mariposa County Arts Council & VAPA Consultant, MCOE/MCUSD
- Jill Harry – President of the Academic Boosters Club, Parent
- Carol Hart – Mariposa County Arts Council Board Member, Biologist, Dancer
- Joshua Kim – Director of Special Services, MCOE/MCUSD
- Lydia Lower – Director of Educational Services and ELL, MCOE/MCUSD
- Marci Messick – El Portal Elementary 5th Grade Teacher, MCUSD
- Katie Pike – Woodland Middle School Teacher, MCUSD
- Flora Savage – Mariposa County High School Counselor, MCUSD, Artist and Musician
- Gracie Tafoya – Mariposa County High School Student
- Tyson Wellcome – Alliance for Community Transformation/Pathos Printing
- Peggy Burt – Strategic Plan Facilitator, California Alliance for Arts Education
Highlights of Strategic Arts Plan
While the primary goal was to develop an implementable plan that builds capacity and infrastructure to support rigorous, equitable arts instruction for all students in Mariposa, this plan and process also served as an initial effort to bring together a community of practice within disparate sectors of Mariposa’s education/arts community to form a singular vision. Also, this plan is intended to fold in both the Mariposa County Creative Placemaking Strategy and the Mariposa County Arts Council’s forthcoming Strategic Plan.
Content: Teaching and Learning in and through the Arts/Professional Development
Deliver curriculum, instruction and professional development to support the arts and arts integrations for all students;
Develop a Sustainable, Progressive, Diverse Arts Curriculum;
Empower teachers with relevant PD that allows choice and makes teaching easier; and
Promote and Empower Student Voice While Exhibiting Student Creativity and Expression
Collaborations/Partnerships: Networks/Cross-County Collaboration(s); Interdisciplinary programs/efforts
- Build support for the arts through partnerships, relationships and shared spaces for community and school engagement;
- Forge Relationships with Community Partners to Support Arts Education;
- Support & Celebrate Relationships that Foster each Student’s growth through authentic experience;
- Partner with local businesses and organizations to provide space for students to create and/or present art; and
- Develop Inspiring School Sites for Students to Thrive
Sustainability: Funding/Program Evaluation/Effective Use of Data /Community Involvement/Advocacy
- Increased funding, leadership development and advocacy for long-term arts ecosystem support.
Share our mission about arts education and advocate for its relevance and its benefits, persuade the community to participate and support;
Empower an Inclusive Leadership Team to support an equitable and sustainable Arts Education Plan implementation;
Leverage Existing and Create New Funding Sources: and
Adopt The Declaration of the Rights of All Students to Equity in Arts Learning
Strategic Directions Taken in the Implementation of Strategic Arts Plan
- Promoted and empowered student voice and choice while exhibiting student creativity and expression (Mariposa County Strategic Arts Education Plan, Strategic Direction 1.3)
- Forged relationships with community partners to support arts education (Mariposa County Strategic Arts Education Plan, Strategic Direction 2.1)
- Supported and celebrated relationships that fostered student growth through authentic experiences (Mariposa County Strategic Arts Education Plan, Strategic Direction 2.2)
- Partnered with local businesses and organizations to provide space for students to create and/or present art (Mariposa County Strategic Arts Education Plan, Strategic Direction 2.3)
- Developed inspiring school sites for students to thrive (Mariposa County Strategic Arts Education Plan, Strategic Direction 2.4)
- Shared our mission about arts education, advocacy for it’s relevance and its benefits, persuading the community to participate and support (Mariposa County Strategic Arts Education Plan, Strategic Direction 3.1)
- Leveraged existing and created new funding sources (Mariposa County Strategic Arts Education Plan, Strategic Direction 3.3)
- Development, approval and installation to two student designed murals on the Mariposa County High School and Mariposa Elementary campuses
- MCOE partner, Mariposa Arts Council, secured funding from the Mariposa County Probation Department to continue student led creative placemaking, public art, exhibitions and performances at both school campus and
- Reorganized Mariposa’s Arts Now to serve specifically as a creative youth development working group that includes representation from human serves organization, tribal populations, school counselors, and local arts organizations. This working group will serve and support all creative youth development work throughout Mariposa and is tasked with growing capacity for any institution or organizing supporting youth through the arts.
- The murals, created with the support of this funding, paired student artists with professional mural artists who mentored the youth through the authentic experience of conceptualizing, designing, seeking approval and
installing murals in a public space.
- Once MCOE’s Strategic Arts Education Plan was approved, it was shared broadly with the community which led to a few business opening up exhibition/commercial space to students artists who have since had several successful exhibitions in downtown Mariposa. Furthermore, the Mariposa Arts Council is exploring options that would allow them evolve their gallery space and programming to be more focused on the work of young people.
- The student-led mural projects that were the focus on the Strategic Plan implementation in the Fall of 2021 were leveraged for several communication and fundraising campaigns to support arts education and creative youth
development, which have been successful enough to fund several more similar projects in 2022/2023.
- In partnership with the Mariposa County Creative Youth Development working group, the Mariposa Arts Council has begun a new fundraising initiative specifically for the implementation of MCOE’s Strategic Arts Education Plan. Additionally, the Mariposa Arts Council/Mariposa County High School/Southern Sierra Miwuk NaIon/Alliance for Community Transformation (human services organization) secured a Creative Youth Development capacity building grant from the Mariposa County Probation Department and this coming spring will also be pursuing arts education grants from the California Arts Council, which has 40 million allocated for Creative Youth Development over the next three years.
Student-led Mural Projects
Value Statement – How Has This Work Been Valuable for Your County?
All of the Students in Mariposa County will have access to:
- Equitable, Sequential Creative Arts- PK-12th Grade;
- Increased Capacity and Support for Arts Integration; and
- Student centered Arts Education that empowers Students through choice and voice.
What have you seen as the value of arts strategic planning in your county
- Developing a strong and enthusiastic community of practice dedicated to defined vision of arts education in Mariposa
What have you seen change in your county as a result of this planning process?
- We expect to see a lot of this front in the year to come, but for the time being, this document is guiding the evolution of arts education program offered by the Mariposa County Arts Council and informing how the County’s Creative Placemaking Master Plan is developing authentic arts learning/experiences into the program, projects and policies it is prioritizing for the County as a whole.
What have you seen as greatest advances as a result of implementing your strategic plan?
- Excitement for arts education from the Mariposa County Office of Education/Mariposa County Unified School Districts administrative staff and school board.
- Community investment
- Deep partnership with art, tribal and human services organizations in Mariposa County.
As a result of your implementation what practices are making an impact?
- Empowering student voice and creativity
- Integrating arts education initiatives into larger county cultural and creative placemaking policy and projects.
- Collective action and partnership work
What have you seen change in your county as a result of this implementation
- Greater public will for arts education from the community at large.
- Intense interest in arts education from the Mariposa County Office of Education/Mariposa County Unified School Districts School Boards
- Youth taking leadership roles in creating public facing art projects on their campuses through authentic learning experiences with pro-social artist mentors.
What lessons are you learning through the implementation of your plan?
- Content: Teaching and Learning in and through the Arts / Professional Development
One semesters into the implementation of our plan, our focus has been on creating authentic learning experiences for students to express their creativity through public arts projects on campus with the help of a professional artists/teaching artists. Thus far, we’ve learned that students respond very well when the teaching artists works closely with them and are available at all steps along the way, teaching through modeling and directed instruction. Teaching artists with a more hands off approach has resulting in more confusion and a lack of direction for students.
- Infrastructure: Teaching Staff/ Facilities/ Resources
One semester in, the bulk of the work in the category relates to establishing relationships with teachers and facility administrators in an effort to gain their support and advocacy for arts education initiatives – this effort has been successful.
- Collaborations/Partnerships: Networks/Cross-County Collaboration(s);
Interdisciplinary programs/efforts – Partnership building has been central feature of arts education throughout Mariposa County and we’ve learned that like any relational effort – it’s good to invest lots of time into building and sustaining partnerships, really listen to the goals of each partners, strive for consensus and full partnership (not just one partner supporting the vision of another).
- Involvement/ Advocacy – Leverage partnerships to tap into community fundraising and grant funding from the myriad of state and regional organizations and foundations supporting arts education. Look beyond traditional funding sources. For example, our partners secured a significant capacity building grant for creative youth development from the county’s probation department that will empower all organizations and institutions providing creative programming for youth in Mariposa.
Given the positive academic and social emotional impact the arts have on our students we are excited to be investing in resources into building systemic practices and partnerships which grow and support equitable and rigorous arts learning throughout Mariposa County aimed at empowering classroom teachers, centering student voice, and integrating classroom curriculum with a myriad of creative placemaking efforts across Mariposa County at large.
– Jeff Aranguena, Superintendent of Mariposa County Office of Education/Mariposa County Unified School District
It’s very helpful to have a singular vision upon which all our implementation work can be framed and guided. Also, while partnerships are extremely valuable, they can become unwieldy and this statement is a helpful tool as we work with partners to define a shared vision and implementation plan.
– Cara Goger, CCSESA Grant Lead
This Strategic Art Plan has been designed to provide a clear pathway forward for the Mariposa County Office of Education/Mariposa County Unified School District and members of Mariposa’s community working to support quality arts education for Mariposa’s youth. Developed by the County’s educational administrators, teachers, artists, parents, students, community organizations and interested citizens this plan is specific to Mariposa and reflects the nuanced nature of the community. It honestly considers the many challenges and limitations the County faces with respect to arts learning and offers thoughtful and achievable solutions, leveraged by the community’s many assets, to grow and sustain high quality, equitable and sequential arts education for every one of Mariposa’s students. Most importantly it builds the capacity and infrastructure needed for effective collective impact, grafting and nurturing the community’s connective tissue and creating the support mechanism to coalesce disparate arts education initiatives into a cohesive, robust and vital creative ecosystem benefitting not only its youth, but the entirety of Mariposa.
Quote from the Plan:
Any way you slice it, Mariposa is a rural and for those growing up here, rural reality and culture is a defining feature of their childhood and educational experience. While certain limitations exist, overall, Mariposa rural features are significant assets – its scale and strong community make it is easy to leverage the many developed and latent opportunities within Mariposa’s educational and social ecosystem to support the County’s youth, in all areas, especially (for the purposes of this document) rigorous, sequential, and equitable arts education.