HLPUSD’s Art Journey: From the Ripple of an Arts Pebble to a Tidal Wave Masterpiece


In the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Department, our motto for the arts for the past four years, from 2014-2018, has been, “Let’s give ‘em something to talk about!” This is a snapshot of our journey about how the current HLPUSD VAPA (Visual and Performing Arts) Vision came to fruition. It is important because this level of progress can be replicated and sustained in any district that makes the arts a priority for student achievement and student connection to their school and life. In addition, the arts truly impact the social, emotional learning of each student, allowing them to express themselves and be inventive innovators. Art also enables students to understand the perspective or talents of another creative, thereby helping them to see the world in diverse ways. Key components of the successful implementation of arts education in HLPUSD are:

  • District Leadership and School Board Support
  • Two full-time VAPA TOSAs (Teachers on Special Assignment) who service all schools
  • Ongoing districtwide Professional Development (PD) opportunities for arts integration
  • Continual opportunities for students to express themselves and share their talents through all arts disciplines
  • Arts partners and agencies that bring needed funds and resources
  • Strong partnership with LACOE that brings PD, resources, research, and connections to arts agencies and organization that teach our students and staff members
  • Arts Grants with funding for PD, materials, and field trips
  • District Strategic Arts Plan goals aligned to LCAP
  • Growth mindset of teachers across content and grade levels that they can implement technology and arts integration into their classroom lessons
  • Continual monitoring of progress and planning of next steps

Time Frame

With the addition of two full-time VAPA TOSAs in 2015, HLPUSD made it possible to bring arts lessons to all elementary schools districtwide. Until then, elective wheels and elective courses were offered primarily at middle and high schools.  Elementary sites only had arts lessons if the arts were a priority in their community. For the past three years, with continual Board and Superintendent support, a consistent initiative has moved forward, bringing more equity and access to the arts for students. Each school year brings an expansion of the arts with new ideas, presentations, showcases, and integrated arts lessons. In fact, teachers request more VAPA PD, including our Summer VAPA Camp, which began in 2017. VAPA and technology PDs are professional growth opportunities that teachers take advantage of most. The work has grown over time, with both administrators and teachers asking for additional site support at staff meetings, PDs, PLCs, department and grade level meetings. Beginning with Preschool, and matriculating up through high school, we bring more opportunities for students to experience the arts. The Student LCAP Advisory Committee requested diverse arts classes to prepare them for college and the work force. They enjoy the hands-on, minds-on learning that art integration brings to their educational career. The infusion of technology and the arts elicits skills in students that teach them critical thinking, problem solving, spacial math reasoning, creativity, communication, collaboration, and more.


HLPUSD is the gem of the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California. Serving over 18,500 students, P-12, and another 18,000 adult education students, HLPUSD provides a plethora of opportunities for students to learn via the arts. 85% of our students are Hispanic. We have a Dual Immersion program in Spanish, Mandarin, and Korean. With 3,626 ELs, we have over 20% of students acquiring English as a second language. We have over 13,300 students, which is 74% of our student population, on free and reduced lunch, and 606 homeless youth. HLPUSD provides breakfast for all students every day.

Key Characters in Moving Forward

Progress starts with Board and District visionary support. Next, our Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, who also serves as Arts Coordinator, provides leadership and administrative support with the team of two full-time VAPA TOSAs at the district level. Charged with providing equity and access to the arts for all students, this team meets regularly to monitor progress and plan next steps. In 2015, they revamped the District Strategic Arts plan, with coaching from the Los Angeles Arts Education Collective. The VAPA Team also serves as leaders and resources for the District VAPA Curriculum Committee. With representation from schools, they look to the cutting edge for what to bring to students and staff. Staff and student feedback is vital to the proactive changes being made. On the horizon for the 2018-2019 school year is the development of a District Student Arts Advisory Council.


The catalyst for change was really that schools were inconsistent in what arts education, if any, they offered students. Traditionally, middle and high schools offer courses based on what teacher talents they have on staff matched with sections in the master schedule. At the elementary level, in most cases, arts education is dependent on the comfort level, talents, desire, and knowledge of the classroom teacher, who teaches every subject. The District Strategic Arts Plan calls for proactive measures to bring arts education to all students. This includes necessary PD for staff, needed resources, funding, as well as family, community, and partnership support.

For the past four years, HLPUSD has offered Districtwide VAPA PD for 1,100 elementary, middle and high school teachers and administrators, including, but not limited to: 1) arts integration across all core content and grade levels, P-12, 2) arts lessons aligned with core content standards, and 3) PD for all generalists and Special Education teachers and administrators. We have Pull-Out, Push-In, and Get-Out PD Models to build professional capacity. Moreover, the following provide arts opportunities for students:

  • 10th Annual District Arts Showcase
  • 3rd Districtwide Open House with Arts Integration and community engagement, in partnership with the Hacienda Heights Community Center and our Student Family Services Department
  • 3rd Annual Parent University Symposium, at which VAPA TOSAs lead arts education conference workshops for parents with hands-on engagement by design.
  • Two CTE Arts Pathways piloted for a second year at Valley, our Continuation High School, led by one of our VAPA TOSAs for two periods daily.
  • Grants: TEAL (Technology Enhanced Arts Learning), TELA (Teaching English Learners through the Arts), Arts for All Advancement Grants
  • Arts Partners: LACOE, 24th Street Theatre, Inner-City Arts, the Los Angeles Arts Education Collective, LACMA
  • Numerous course offerings in the arts at middle and high schools
  • Arts integration implementation across content areas at the elementary school level

Outcomes – Evidence of Success

The ripples from the once small, but aesthetically pleasing, arts pebble have transformed into a beautiful, impactful tidal wave of arts integration. Lasting outcomes include: 1) engagement of students, empowering them to innovate, invent, and create. And, 2) Critical thinking skills aligning discrete arts disciplines with core subjects across all grade levels, from Preschool to grade 12. Classroom observers  see more student artwork aligned with content standards prominently displayed.  Artwork from each of the 34 schools could also be seen as students from each school were recognized at School Board meetings. Artwork is displayed on bulletin boards at the District office.  Teachers request VAPA TOSAs to come model lessons, team teach, and inspire students through all art mediums, including digital art media. Students have attended and starred in live theatre, music, and dance performances, and been encouraged to present their work to peers, families, and outside partners, extending their learning beyond the four walls of the classroom. We have a growing number of arts partners, which equates to more research, effective teaching strategies, funding, and resources for staff and students.

From Preschool to AP Spanish, students analyze and create art in many ways.  With close reading, Visual Thinking Strategies, technology, and growth mindsets for creativity in the arts and visual conceptualization, teachers instill in students an expansion of their VAPA horizons toward a more global approach. Data from Preschool shows a 53% growth in Visual and Performing Arts on the DRDP Assessment. This is due to our Curriculum Department and VAPA TOSAs leading PD for the Preschool teachers, administrators, and classified staff. The arts connect students to their schools, as well as across core content.

Why It Matters

When the subject material is made relevant to their lives, students take ownership of their learning, and hold themselves accountable for active participation in their craft, be it visual arts, theatre, dance, music, or digital arts. They also learn how to collaborate with others on common goals. Elementary teachers report they are more motivated to teach the arts, given standards-aligned modules and strategies to implement. Overall, we see student and staff enthusiasm, joy, and connection to the arts. Art education matters because we are not only preparing our students for college and career competitiveness, but also for creative jobs in their future that don’t yet exist.

Pictures: The first two are from our 2018 Arts Show, showcasing talent from Preschool-12th grade students.


This picture shows School Board President Gino Kwok, Superintendent Cynthia Parulan-Colfer, and our VAPA Team of Director of Curriculum and Arts Coordinator Dr. Helene Cunningham, and VAPA TOSAs Lisa Ruiz and Jasey Crowl.

Regional Lead: Shannon Wilkins

District Name: Hacienda La Puente Unified School District

County: Los Angeles

Contact Name: Dr. Helene Cunningham

Contact Email: hcunningham@hlpusd.k12.ca.us