11 Jan The heart of art at Kesterson Elementary School
You can’t spell heart without art…and at Lorna J. Kesterson Elementary School, they have used an emphasis on both to achieve the coveted Five-Star school rating according to the Nevada School Performance Framework.
Since Principal Jackie Walker arrived at the Henderson school four years ago, the administration and staff have worked together to increase the hands-on exposure to the arts for its 700 students. Walker believes that is one of the key reasons for the success at the school that is located near the triangle intersection of U.S. 95 and the 215, a few blocks away from the Valley Auto Mall.
“Children don’t get to experience beauty anymore, so we have taken a number of steps to provide cultural opportunities for them,” said Walker. “Through an expanded class time schedule, to providing 20 different art programs for students to participate in, we have developed a nice little arts program here.
In addition to the expanded school day that teachers eagerly agreed to and the number of programs they offer, the school is also a cornucopia of color throughout the hallways and in the individual classrooms, which teachers have painted with their own color schemes and/or designs.
Recognizing that the employees have different personalities, Walker and Assistant Principal Kelly Wright have encouraged teachers to provide different experiences for the students in how their rooms are decorated and through the art courses they teach.
That philosophy of having variety is also reflected in the administrative team. Walker has a humanities background, while Wright could have easily ended up in an accounting field instead of education. The difference was something Walker values as Walker appreciated the fact that Wright has a different personality and can provide insight from a different point of view.
“No two people are the same, so at our school, we want to leverage their gifts to provide a great learning experience for the children,” said Walker.
The school has also established a “house” system as in the Harry Potter movies. To enhance their own skills and learn how to implement the concept in their school, Walker, Wright and a number of the teachers went to Atlanta to visit the Ron Clark Academy. The Georgia school has been recognized nationally and internationally for its success, especially with a predominantly minority population and it was a positive experience for the Kesterson staff.
The model that Kesterson Elementary School is using seems to be working well for everyone. While their school is not immune to retirements and people moving out of state to return to their “homes,” Wright could only recall four teachers who left to go to another school in the district in the eight years she has been at the school, “and two of those came back to us,” she said.
The continuity in staff and the concept of providing staff with a voice has been noticed by a number of households in Henderson, who have requested zone variances for their child/children to attend the school specifically because of its emphasis on the arts.
All of this has been done at a Title I school that has 55 percent minority students, and 40 percent who qualify for the federal Free and Reduced Lunch program.
When asked about the importance of the arts in their school, the two administrators summed up their thoughts this way.
“You need to have a reason for all students to want to come to school,” said Wright. “We are trying to reach the students who are not necessarily motivated by academics.”
“I believe that students who are exposed to the arts are better problem solvers because just like an ensemble, they learn that everybody has a part, but when everybody plays their part, it turns into a work of art,” said Walker.
The philosophies they have would only be concepts if it was not for the efforts of the teachers that make it happen. Walker calls the teachers investment “sweat equity” and that provides the heart portion of art.