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Sugar House Journal

Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program keeps art in schools

Mar 31, 2017 10h17 ● By Aspen Perry

Fourth-grade students at Lincoln Elementary work on folk art for their art show on April 9. (Aspen Perry/City Journals).

By Aspen Perry   |   [email protected]

Despite consistent budget cuts in educational art programs, the walls of Nibley Park K-8 School are adorned with the imaginative creations of students. This is thanks to the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program, a grant program created to help both bring back and keep art education in schools where funding for the arts was diminishing.

Beverley Taylor Sorenson spent years lobbying to put the arts back in elementary schools, and in 2008, her hard work paid off when the Utah State Legislature funded BTSALP, bringing art education to schools with the intent to integrate art with the core curriculum to provide students another medium for concepts they are learning.

Shawn Westrup, BTS arts specialist for Nibley Park and Whittier Elementary, does her best to incorporate what her kindergarten through fifth-grade students are learning in class with her art lessons.

“When the younger grades are learning about seasons, I try to tie in art to reflect that,” Westrup said.

Westrup described another concept she tied in when her fifth-grade students learned about the Civil War. She created a lesson plan around the face jugs freed slaves made. This lesson included the purpose of why freed slaves made face jugs, followed with the students creating their own face jugs out of clay. 

“I try to tie their classroom curriculum in whenever possible,” Westrup said. 

After spending the majority of her teaching years as a high school counselor, Westrup was a bit nervous to transition to elementary students. However, Westrup discovered she loves working with this age group.

“I love it because they love doing art and they’re not afraid yet, and they love coming to art,” Westrup said.

According to the BTSALP website, BTSALP is in 34 districts, 400 schools, and serves 300,000 students. In addition to visual art, BTSALP also has specialists in dance, music, and drama. It provides an important element to education since art-integrated instruction is shown to effectively increase student performance in all core curriculum subjects.

“The Beverley Taylor Sorenson grant has helped bring art into elementary schools over the last several years and the number of specialists are growing,” said Sheryl Thorell, BTS arts specialist for Lincoln and Cottonwood Elementary schools.

In addition to BTS arts specialists helping students understand lesson plans through art education, their role can also assist teachers in further covering lesson plans teachers may not have enough time to cover.

“When I think about a lesson for each grade, I try to include the classroom teachers. Working together…I can help with a science or social studies lesson that would not get as much time [in the classroom],” Thorell said.

Much like Westrup’s experience teaching the elementary students at Nibley Park and Whittier, Thorell loves watching the way art can help students at Cottonwood and Lincoln Elementary schools connect with what they are learning in the classroom.

“Many children are tactile learners and several children at Lincoln are just learning the English language, using art to connect and reinforce what they are learning in the classroom…builds confidence and strengthens knowledge,” said Thorell.

Many of the BTS arts specialists work in multiple schools and do not have designated art rooms, requiring them to load art supplies on a cart to bring to the classrooms. As Thorell explained, this poses a challenge since well-integrated art lessons take a great deal of time to prepare, and when traveling between schools it is stressful to ensure all necessary supplies were packed.

Regardless of the challenges she encounters, Thorell loves working with the students and wouldn’t change anything.

“I love teaching art and even at the end of a very busy, tiring day, when I go home with paint and ink all over my clothes and on my hands, I am excited to do it all over again the next day,” Thorell said.