The Right Brain Initiative: another year of investing in imagination

Right Brain third graders investigate the history of Portland through comics.

This time of year the sun is setting before 8:00 p.m., a new season of your favorite television series premieres, and wide-ruled notebooks are selling for 70 cents each. It is September and a new school year is officially upon us.

At the Regional Arts & Culture Council, The Right Brain Initiative is back in action at local schools.

Now in its eighth year, Right Brain is proud to serve over 27,500 K-8 students in seven school districts: Corbett, Gresham-Barlow, Hillsboro, North Clackamas, Oregon Trail, Portland Public, and our newest addition, Reynolds. This fall, Right Brain is adding six partner schools located between Hillsboro and Boring, including Alder Elementary, Corbett Grade, Kelso Elementary, King K-8, Poynter Middle, and Troutdale Elementary.

Professional development for school staff continues to be a cornerstone of the program, training teachers and principals on arts integration as an approach to teaching all subjects including language arts, science, social studies and math. As one educator put it, “By integrating the arts into [all] instruction, it becomes a powerful vehicle for making the subject-area content relevant and meaningful.” This year, we are excited to supplement our full-day off-campus training sessions for small teacher teams with in-school mini workshops to reach the entire school staff. Engage all teachers; reach all students.

Teachers also learn to weave the arts into classroom learning by collaborating with Right Brain teaching artists. Over the last year, seven new artists joined Right Brain’s Teaching Artist Roster diversifying artist residency offerings to include recycled art, digital animation, and Peruvian dance, among others.

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Right Brain teaching artist Lin Lucas works with students at Rieke elementary school.

Last year, teaching artist Lin Lucas joined 3rd grade classrooms at Rieke Elementary where students and teachers explored graphic arts as a vehicle to examining historical and cultural norms in the Portland community. During their social studies unit on the Oregon Trail, students created narratives in the form of comics to express the similarities and differences among people from different cultures. When asked what it takes to make a successful comic, one student explained, “I learned that you have to dig in, get tons of evidence, know the ‘who, what, when, where, and why,’ and you have to ask questions.” At the conclusion of the project she commented, “It just amazes me how far comics can go [to express] what other people’s perspectives are.” This experience most certainly demonstrates that creative expression provides new entry points into learning that can invigorate classrooms, stimulate student dialogue and cultivate reflection.

If you’re wondering how this happens, Right Brain is proud to unveil a brand new video illustrating how all of these program aspects fit together to change the learning experience for students. In the video, 7th and 8th grade teacher Laresa Beck applies what she has learned through Right Brain to make creative sparks fly in her classroom. “I’m a good teacher,” she says, “but Right Brain has kind of made me a great teacher.”

Beginning September 12, The Right Brain Initiative will celebrate National Arts in Education Week (September 11-17) by releasing our 2016 Progress Report. We will also share stories of how arts education has impacted our community, including perspectives from our staff, as well as the students and educators we serve. Help us celebrate arts education by being our friend on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) to follow our updates and share your own story about how arts education has made a difference in your life.

Want to learn more about The Right Brain Initiative, meet our staff, and have your questions answered? Join us at our next Right Brain Information Session on Wednesday, October 12, 5:00-7:00 p.m. at RACC, 411 NW Park Avenue, Suite 101. Also check out our new fundraising campaign Invest in Imagination Maybelle Clark Macdonald Fund Challenge that matches dollar-for-dollar new individual contributions of $100 or more, all to support The Right Brain Initiative.