Throughout the school year the Port Chester Council for the Arts works to bring art into the Port Chester School District. Once a year, however, they, and the school district, take one day and truly devote it to shining a light on the importance of arts in education.
The events-packed school day tried to inspire students, and their teachers, to unleash their creative sides, and the third grade at King Street School really took the lesson to heart.
In the morning of Thursday, June 6, under the direction of Literacy Through the Arts instructor Mai Kong, the students created watercolor paintings based on the book "Bullfrog at Magnolia Circle" by Deborah Dennard and Kristin Kest.
"The children illustrated a scene from the story," said third grade teacher Patricia Johnson, who added that the story helped fill the daily reading module as well.
The week before the students visited the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx to learn about bullfrogs and wetlands, the habitat for bullfrogs. The students' comprehensive study of bullfrogs culminated with them writing stories to go with their drawings the day after National Arts in the School Day (NASD) on June 6.
Furthermore, inspired by NASD, Johnson planned an afternoon art project for her students to do after Kong left. She settled on the idea for the students to create paper mosaics of the first letter in their names.
"We really took advantage and worked to incorporate art into the whole day," Johnson said.
District-wide speech competition
For NASD the arts experiences at each school are different, but this year there was one event that incorporated all of the elementary schools: the 5th grade district-wide speech competition held at John F. Kennedy Magnet School. As a culmination of the fifth grade presentation skills program, part of the Port Chester Council for the Arts' (PCCFA) Literacy Through the Arts curriculum, the students learned how to structure and organize a presentation, develop content, engage the audience and acquire confidence speaking in front of an audience.
Tone Alex, a student at JFK, earned first place in the friendly competition and a $250 gift card for his speech.
"It was about why you should play sports," he said.
Playing sports is important for several reasons including reducing obesity which has increased since 2000, he explained. If a person stops playing video games and starts playing sports, he or she will also get healthier.
Alex included both statistics and personal anecdotes to craft his speech, something the judges appreciated.
"A lot of you took the time to share really personal stories," said Carlos Sanchez, the Port Chester School District director of curriculum, instruction and assessment. "Many of you used facts, research. Many of you used evidence to support what you said."
Alex's older brother exercises regularly and Alex observed how that has helped him. "I went to the internet to research," he added.
In order to compete in the district competition, the students first had qualifying matches at their home elementary schools. The finalists for all of the schools except Park Avenue School, which had a scheduling conflict, then participated in the final match.
"Last time when I competed I wasn't nervous, but this time was for the district so I was a little nervous," said Alex, "but I had to stand tall and do what I had to do."
Jim Dreves said he was impressed with the students as both a retired advertising executive and as the current Board of Education president.
"Being able to speak in front of people, being able to express your ideas and make your case" is important to get ahead in the corporate world, he said. As the school board president, he was also glad to see the students express themselves.
For National Arts in the School Day, students had the chance to express themselves in a variety of ways and mediums. At Port Chester Middle School, students dressed up as artists in honor of Leonardo DaVinci. Third grade students at JFK used poetry and then got to make three dimensional frogs from tissue paper. In the fourth grade, the students learned about Mount Rushmore from Port Chester resident Lou Del Bianco and then made their own sculptures. At Edison Elementary School, first and second graders painted large tiles for a Sistine Chapel project. In fourth grade, the students learned how to create and draw their own storybook characters from Paul Rively.
Working with the fourth graders was a treat for Rively, an illustrator from Port Chester.
"Their imaginations are so open," he said. "They're willing to take the risk and not be afraid of the paper."
Rively visited each of the 4th grade classrooms at Edison and at the end of the day, it was not only the students who got something out of the experience.
"They've inspired me to go home and do some work today," Rively said.
Arts Advocates honored
After school let out, many of the artists and local residents gathered at the Posillipo Center to hear the Rye Town Players perform Melodies of Broadway, a musical revue, and then to honor Cindy Moore and Brigitte Loritz, this year's two Arts Advocates.
"Honestly, Brigitte and Cindy have been the foundations of the programs we've done," said Denise Colangelo, the PCCFA's executive director.
"Cindy has inspired generations of budding singers and actresses," said Joan Morenstein,
a retired Port Chester Middle School vocal music teacher. "She has truly made a difference in so many lives."
Moore said it was nice to see some of her students, current ones, like Port Chester High School senior Kim Maguire, and former students such as Maguire's mother.
"I love what I do, but it's nice to be recognized and appreciated," said Moore, who has musically directed more than 30 shows for the PCCFA.
The other honoree, Loritz, helped co-found the PCCFA's KinderArt program 25 years ago and is a longtime Literacy Through the Arts instructor.
"For the last 16 years I've loved being a classroom teacher and working alongside her in the Literacy Through Arts program as we plan art projects for her to teach my students that enrich the academic concepts and vocabulary," said Jenn Carriero-Dominguez, a 4th grade teacher at Park Avenue School. "Through Brigitte's sketching, shading, color theory and watercolor painting techniques, she has transformed the artistic abilities of countless Port Chester students including me when I was her student in the first after school program created by the Port Chester Council for the Arts."
Throughout the day, Loritz visited many classrooms at Park Avenue School and showed the students pictures of some of her artwork.
"I think they were really creative because she used things that I don't really see in many paintings and she drew things from her hometown like the small castle in Switzerland," said Joseph Montalvo of Garibaldi Place. "She mixed lots of colors to make new colors like burgundy for some of the flowers and darkish gray for
the sun. She put in little details."
After Loritz left, Montalvo and the other students in Carriero-Dominguez's class painted watercolors in honor of Loritz's chosen medium. Liking Loritz's flowers, Montalvo decided to paint tulips, roses and sunflowers.
"To add detail I drew grass I colored green and a sun I colored yellow and the sky dark blue," the 4th grader said.
In the lobby of Park Avenue School, student artwork hung on the wall as well as work from students' families, teachers and staff. For
the Art for All Gallery at Park Avenue, Christian and Alex Pineda brought in a painting of a flamenco dancer their grandmother drew and Isabella Roca, a former student whose sisters still attend, contributed a drawing of a friend of the family who has since passed away. There are also pictures of several students' dads who are in bands, sculptures made by students and even some elaborate Lego creations.
The point, explained Carriero-Dominguez, is for the students to understand that "all people are artists."