Arts Education in Rural Communities

Merced County

Name of County: Merced County Office of Education
Region: 7
County Superintendent: Dr. Steve Tietjen, Merced County Superintendent of Schools
Cohort Lead: Noelle Chandler

Nestled lovingly close to the geographic center of the state in California’s agricultural Central Valley, Merced County is made up of almost 300,000 people across 2,000 square miles. Merced County is thought of as a series of farming communities: Merced River was originally named Nuestra Senora de la Merced (Our Lady of Mercy) and that proximity to life-giving water allowed for a wealth of produce to be grown and for families to thrive.

Merced County Office of Education serves twenty school districts (in a variety of settings and configurations with incredibly disparate needs). The county office of education also runs multiple schools and programs and the newest UC Campus is housed right in the heart of the county seat. Merced County is more than just an agricultural hub. It also is known for innovations in education, research, community engagement, and its vibrant arts.

Unique Characteristics

Merced City is known as the “Gateway to Yosemite” due to one of the few entrance roads to Yosemite National Park running directly through the town. Communities around Merced County boast a wide variety of events, activities and cultural landmarks: Taiko drumming in Ballico, Hilmar Cheese Factory, the Los Banos Tomato Festival, and so much more.

Key Strategic Goals of County Strategic Arts Plan

  • Strategic Direction #1 – Networks
    Build critical networks of student-based, school-based and community-based partners in the arts
  • Strategic Direction #2 – Opportunities
    Increase opportunities for in-school and after-school arts participation and exposure
  • Strategic Direction #3 – Sustainability
    Develop sustainable financial, material and administrative support for school- and community-based arts programs
  • Strategic Direction #4 – Community
    Strengthen families and revitalize communities with youth-led arts resources and connections

Read the full Merced County Strategic Arts Plan

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

Stated Arts Education Core Values
  • Core Value #1
    Build awareness of arts opportunities and their benefits
  • Core Value #2
    Increase engagement in high-quality, rigorous, culturally compassionate arts
  • Core Value #3
    Develop support for new and existing arts programs
  • Core Value #4
    Strengthen families and revitalize communities through the arts

Highlighted Accomplishments

  1. Merced County-wide Young Artists Network (CYAN): As an active part of Arts Now MCOE and the 2020 MCOE Strategic Arts Plan, Arts @ MCOE and the Merced County Arts Council are partnering to support students individually with the Merced County-Wide Young Artists Network, or Merced CYAN.
  2. Inspiring AWE (Arts Workshops for Educators) professional development series: Merced County Office developed a targeted way to build capacity with educators by planning and implementing a three-day conference for Merced County educators general classroom teachers called Inspiring AWE Through Arts Integration (Arts Workshops for Educators) For three full days, June 30-July 2, 2021, participants enjoyed workshops including, “Paper Making and Sculpture”, “Mindful Movement and Dance”, Music and Movement”, Reader’s Theatre and more, all through the lens of SEL and cultural relevance.  Participants visited the Multicultural Arts Center and the Merced Theatre.  Partners from UC-Merced and the Multicultural Arts Center also participated. The whole experience brought the group together and formed strong bonds for the PLC for the year ahead.
  3. Partnering internally with Merced COE departments to fill in gaps in arts programming for vulnerable students in Merced County.

What have you seen as the greatest advances as a result of implementing your strategic plan?
Pulling off “Inspiring AWE” and developing a community of teachers dedicated to arts education.

As a result of your implementation, what practices are making an impact?
Arts integration is probably the most impactful practice at the moment, as it can be individualized for each classroom and teacher.

What have you seen change in your county as a result of this implementation support?
Teachers are interested in implementing arts integration in their classrooms and feel supported when doing so.

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

  • Content: Teaching and Learning in and through the Arts / Professional Development
    Teachers have benefited from learning content that is relevant, engaging, and easy to implement. Also, linking arts to SEL opened up resources for use that meet the needs of teachers and students.
  • Infrastructure: Teaching Staff/ Facilities/ Resources
    COVID-19 posed many challenges for collaborative work, but with innovation we found that we could still create find ways to support teachers and students.
  • Collaborations/Partnerships: Networks/Cross-County Collaboration(s); Interdisciplinary programs/efforts
    We have collaborated with UC Merced and the Merced County Arts Council. These partnerships have helped to further our arts education goals and strategic arts plan. We continue to work to foster and grow other collaborative work including the following programs: Migrant Education Program, Science, ELA/ELD, Court & Community Schools
  • Sustainability: Funding/ Program Evaluation/Effective Use of Data /Community Involvement/ Advocacy
    We have been active in the Arts NOW communities as part of our work with CREATE CA. By participating in the CCSESA Rural Arts Network, we have networked with other county office leaders. The funding from the CCSESA Statewide Arts Initiative helped us further our goals. Merced County Education Foundation has also contributed to our work including
    technology to support Arts Learning-eLearn (Moodle platform from MCOE). Especially during the pandemic, technology and support for educators has been especially important in sustaining our work. This included creating the Mobile STEAM lab and we will also be creating an interactive site (Arts@MCOE) which is coming soon.

Value Statements – How Has This Been Valuable for Your County?

Having an official strategic arts plan has made a world of difference in the choices MCOE has made in terms of community arts development and support, and added validity and structure to an often-overlooked component of the educational experience.

Please view this short video that describes the Merced County Office of Education Strategic Arts Plan.