April 20, 2021

CCEF Funds Cultural Appreciation and Literacy Programs

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There are designated months throughout the year to celebrate cultural diversity, such as Black History Month in February and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May. However, is one month enough? Luckily, the Culver City Education Foundation (CCEF) raises funds that promote cultural appreciation and literacy year-round at every school within the Culver City Unified School District (CCUSD).

The Front and Center Theatre Collaborative was formed ten years ago to sustain and increase theatre arts education in CCUSD. Through this initiative, funded by donations to CCEF, professional arts organizations such as Center Theatre Group (CTG) and 24th STreet Theatre teach CCUSD students how theatre inspires empathy through storytelling. CTG conducts playwriting workshops that promote cultural heritage and literacy by having students learn to tell their own stories. Traci Kwon, CTG’s Arts Education Initiatives Director, states, “I think it’s fair to say that theatre is cultural history, as we bring to life past times and places through storytelling”.

24th STreet Theatre also teaches the power of storytelling to all 5th grade students across CCUSD. In recent years, thousands of 5th graders have participated in their Enter Stage Right field trip program in which students see a voting rights scene taking place in the South during the 1960s that depicts overt racism. This is followed by a discussion about how to change the scene to make it more just, incorporating Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Culturally Relevant Teaching.

Social distancing has not deterred CCUSD students from learning the valuable lessons taught by 24th ST. In a two-part workshop series via Zoom, students begin by learning how theatre gives people the ability to be more empathetic because of storytelling. Teaching artist Jane Noseworthy explains to students, “the more stories you tell and listen to, the more empathy you gain”.

In the second part of the program, students are reminded of the meaning of empathy and experience the online field trip program. Teaching artists Noseworthy and Ariana Gonzalez ask students after witnessing racism, “Have you ever been stopped because of your skin color, the language you speak, your looks, your beliefs, your religion, your gender?” Noseworthy and Gonzalez, accompanied by teaching artist Bradley Brough, create a safe and welcoming environment for students to express themselves vocally or in the Zoom chat box. As a result, students learn how to be resilient and respect cultural diversity. Continuing to evolve and be responsive, the Front and Center partners have also been meeting to discuss how the program can further its alignment to the district’s Equity, Social Justice and Inclusion Plan.

Theatre is not the only place students learn to celebrate cultural diversity. CCEF also raises funds to support music education programs at every CCUSD elementary school led by the Symphonic Jazz Orchestra (SJO). Professional musicians from SJO lead music education lessons for all fourth and fifth grade students that include components of cultural awareness. This ranges from music of West Africa, Mexico to South Africa, and Germany to Japan. Mitch Glickman, the Music Director of SJO, states, “Role models are so important to young people. When they see faces like Miles Davis, Carlos Santana, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ravi Shankar and Tan Dun, they can see themselves reflected in these great musicians that are being taught.”

CCUSD visual arts teachers also work toward increasing cultural awareness through their curriculum. Teachers Susana Fattorini and Margaret Alarcón implement this on the high school and elementary level, respectively. Their lessons are inspired by literature and art from various cultures, with Alarcón reading books such as The Princess and the Warrior and Raven, to help students celebrate cultural differences and inspire cultural awareness. As Fattorini notes, “We need to normalize how we all have different stories and cultures that need to be seen. It is a special moment when a student feels seen.

However, this work does not come without its challenges. Fattorini and Alarcón state, “There is a real need to incorporate culturally and linguistically responsive lessons that reflect and honor the diversity of the students at each site. While teaching to the same Visual Arts Standards, the curriculum needs to be customized and expanded to help students develop their cultural awareness and empathy. It’s important the students experience a wide range of materials to encourage exploration and innovation.”

Another area where CCEF donations have supported cultural diversity is in the school libraries. CCEF recently donated $50,000 toward the purchase of culturally relevant and inclusive books to add to the libraries at every CCUSD school. The goal is to increase the library resources that represent the rich diversity of students across our campuses.

Donations to CCEF are critical to support these arts education programs that promote diverse cultural learning year round. Collaborations with organizations such as CTG, 24th ST, SJO, and the dedication of our hardworking teachers within CCUSD help ensure our students, among the most diverse in all of LA County, thrive in welcoming, culturally diverse environments within Culver City and beyond.

Susana Fattorini’s students display their work, ‘Portrait inspired by Joshua Mays,’ from a lesson on Afro-Futurism that started during Black Lives Matter week.

Click here to read the article on page 4 in the April issue of Culver Currents.