How do you bring art to kids at home? Texas Cultural Trust creates art box for Del Valle students
Angie Rodgers' second-grade art students at Del Valle Elementary School couldn't wait to show her what they had made. One turned Model Magic air-dry clay into a monster puppet. Another made a Dallas Cowboy sculpture out of paper and pipe cleaners. Some used watercolors to paint winter scenes.
All the second-graders at Del Valle Elementary, whether they were attending in-person or online, received an art box from Texas Cultural Trust in November.
Each box had 20 art supplies: everything from oil pastels, charcoal and acrylic paint to felt, glue, scissors and a tracing pad.
Del Valle Elementary School is a Title I school, which means that at least 40 percent of the kids enrolled are from low-income families.
"Most, if not all of them did not have those materials at home," Rodgers says. They may have had paper and crayons, but not sculpting clay and canvas and a paint palette.
"Anytime our students can get materials or resources, it is really beneficial to them."
The art box gave kids "a whole new level to express themselves," she says.
This gave them an outlet for creativity in an independent way, she says. They saw themselves as artists beyond the one-hour of art curriculum they get a week.
"If they can't see it, they can't be it," she says.
School art classes had to be different this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Some students were virtual, and Rodgers would have them pick up simple materials like crayons and paper purchased through her school budget. Some students were in-person but instead of coming to the art room, the art room came to their classroom by a cart wheeled in by Rodgers.
All of this meant that kids had less access to many supplies during art class. Messy things like clay and papier-mâché were out. Instead, they have been drawing a lot or using recycled objects that everyone has at home.
The art box, though, gave the students access to many different materials.
When Texas Cultural Trust came to Rodgers to pilot the art box program, it had the funding to give an art box to every student in one grade. Rodgers chose second grade because of the materials inside the box as well as a second-grader's ability to have enough fine motor skills and to read some instructions to work independently.
"It was hard to choose," she says. "I wanted to give them to everyone."
The Texas Cultural Trust is working with H-E-B to reduce the costs of each box and expand the pilot program this fall to five schools, including an elementary school in the Houston area and one in Victoria.
Data is being collected through surveys to evaluate how the boxes are being used by asking questions around how often students use the box, what materials they liked best and learning about what they are making.
After the pilot program data is collected, Texas Cultural Trust will expand the program next winter by putting out applications for schools to receive the art boxes and seek funding from donors and foundations to pay for the boxes.
"We will work hard to find the funding if schools are interested," says Heidi Marquez Smith, chief executive director at Texas Cultural Trust.
"The 7-year-old getting the box is getting creativity at home instead of being on electronics or watching TV. It's more inspiring and motivating."
One idea is to sell art boxes with a model similar to the one used at Toms Shoes: when you buy a box, another box is donated.
"When kids have access to arts, they think outside of the box," Marquez Smith says.
Nicole Villalpando writes about parenting for the American-Statesman. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.