Keeping creativity alive: Edmonds schools foundation steps up to save art education amid budget cuts

The hands of first graders from Oak Heights Elementary with an art project.

The Foundation for Edmonds School District (FESD), a nonprofit supporting comprehensive education, said it is striving to uphold its commitment amid recent budget cuts. In response to the financial shortfall, the foundation has initiated the Save the Arts campaign and has already secured enough money to pay for seven music classes across middle and high schools.

“We felt it would be more prudent to invest donors’ gifts in middle and high school music programs where the greatest impact could be preserved,” said FESD Executive Director Deborah Brandi.

She said that the foundation will need to raise an additional $300,000 to $400,000 to fund the art programs for the 2025–2026 academic year. Achieving this goal will allow them to restore the arts programs and teaching positions that were cut or reduced for the next school year.

“We’ve modified our plan based on actual salary costs versus an estimated cost which had been what the district had originally provided,” Brandi said, highlighting that the actual costs are 25% higher than what was quoted. “So, for a 0.2 full-time equivalent class, the actual, burdened cost is $40,480 – compared to the average unburdened cost of $32,000. This meant that the costs to retain fifth-grade bands were nearly $1 million. Plus, the ESD intends to restructure middle school to include grades 6 to 8. Fifth-grade band will, ultimately, go away as a result of this change.”

Brandi also mentioned that FESD – through classroom and school-wide grants – also funds classes that include art with other topics, such as history, reading and culture. Art is such a fundamental component of history and other core classes such as reading, and math.

Take for instance, the art of clay pottery. Clay pottery shards, vases and artworks teach valuable lessons in culture, history and anthropology. Artist Julie Perrine, who is a guest teacher at various schools in Edmonds School District (ESD), picked up a pottery shard that has rows of squiggly lines that has similar patterns as one of the clay jugs in the book.

“This piece may be from the 9th century, maybe older,” Perrine said, looking up the Pecos Classification graph in the book that gives an estimation of the pottery’s age. “I was gifted with a few shards with the understanding I would use them for teaching, which I do. Some of these pottery pieces were made over 1,000 years ago. I am blown away and in awe of the incredible pottery, past and present, from this area of the world.”

Perrine said that she has introduced hundreds of third graders about Native American culture and pottery in the past 10 years, particularly tribes from the Four Corners region of the American Southwest. These lessons are taught by connecting art with history, science and culture, such as how the ancestors of the Pueblo people adapted to changing environments and how that influenced the changes of their artwork in murals, basket weaving and clay pottery.

“The ancestors of the modern day Pueblo people found themselves settled and raising crops,” she said. “They made ornate and highly functioning pottery for storing, cooking and eating.”

While these societies were overcoming challenges of survival, current educational institutions are facing challenges and art classes are facing extinction as a result.

Barbara Childs at work.

Former ESD Community Arts Program Coordinator Barbara “Barb” Childs said that she is “emotionally upset” about the budget cuts because the school district once valued art as a way to help students’ mental health during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“We went from ‘Art is so important!’ to “You know…it’s important, but it’s the first thing we’re gonna cut,’” Childs said. “[The school district doesn’t] seem to think that it matters enough to keep it.”

Her daughters Kate Shinn and Annie Childs had attended Meadowdale High School and had applied much of the skills they had learned from art programs into their professional and personal lives.

Shinn took a class on web design and designed the Edmonds Studio Tour website. She earned a history degree and an art minor from Central Washington University. In addition to working in the mortgage business, Shinn is an illustrator and owner of her company Fat Dog Arts.

Annie is an intensive-care unit nurse and a photographer where she does high school graduation and engagement pictures. Her art also is a stress reliever of her nursing job.

A graduate of Woodway High School in 1979, Childs was a member of the Woodway Marching Band as a piccolo player. She always looked forward to band class because of the belonging feeling of the community and her best friend was the baton twirler.

“When you go to reunions, nobody really gets together because they had algebra together. Nobody gets together and talks about English class,” Childs said. “You get the band people, the football people. It’s where we learned community, and that’s what’s so important about the arts because it makes a community where people feel safe. While I wasn’t the best musician, I was there because of community.”

After high school, Childs earned a degree in business administration and community health education from Central Washington University and had worked in corporate employee health while doing pottery as a hobby. By 2000, she left the corporate job and became a full-time potter in Edmonds and taught pottery in various ESD schools as a guest teacher.

She is also a board member of the Edmonds Art Studio Tour and the Edmonds Art Festival. Childs worked for ESD as an art program coordinator from 2015 until August 2023.

“While I was working for the school district, all of the art teachers continually told me that there were kids who were not English speaking who had just moved in because they couldn’t get into the math and English classes yet because of language and learning difficulties and behavioral issues,” Childs said. “This made it difficult for a lot of kids who just wanted to take an art class because the art classes were always full. So those classes were used to help assimilate our new students who were not English speaking or spoke very little English or for a lot of kids who have learning difficulties.”

Meanwhile, Perrine said that she is currently teaching at Scriber Lake High School with clay sculptor Nathan Seright. “Working with clay is about problem solving,” Perrine said. “Doing this each year allows students to build upon the skills they learned the previous year. Working with clay, using both hands at once, works both sides of the brain. It develops motor skills, hand eye coordination, encourages right-brained thinking as well as developing patience. It is not a fast process nor always successful, but it absolutely builds self-esteem. You should see the sense of pride when students view their work fresh out of the kiln.”

One of Seright’s students remember Perrine from his elementary school years at Mountlake Terrace Elementary. He still kept many of the clay sculptures he made in Perrine’s classes.

“We talked about all the projects he made with me, which he still has, from second to sixth grade,” Perrine said. “Once we made this connection, I knew why he was so gifted in sculpting: it was his prior experience. According to his teacher, he is good with all art mediums and I attribute that to his exposure in elementary school. At the time, his elementary school had parents, teachers and a principal who knew the importance of art in the curriculum, and they were able to secure outside funding through donors and grants to support this program.

“I love encouraging the creative spirit and giving the opportunity for others to express that creativity,” Perrine continued. “Making this connection with a high school student that I had the privilege of working with as a guest artist during five of his elementary school years really showed me that it was all worth it. I got to see first hand what he gained from these earlier lessons.”

For more information and to donate, visit Foundations for Edmonds School District.

— Story and photos provided by the Foundation for Edmonds School District

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