As a single mother raising three children, Mary Ellen Murphy used to worry that she was being neglecting her youngest child.
"She is quiet and bottled-up," Murphy says of her daughter, Catherine Murphy-Melicher. "She carries her stress inwardly."
Murphy thought that Catherine's "quiet and solemn" demeanor was a sign of deeper issues, and she "felt sorry" for Catherine-- a second-grader at Landels Elementary School, who spends an hour or more every day drawing alone.
But Murphy sees things differently now.
"I realized that it is just her personality," she said.
The Mountain View mother explains that drawing is an important creative outlet for her daughter. Catherine expresses herself with detailed pencil sketches of people and mermaids. The girl finds it soothing -- the blank sheets of paper offering her endless possibilities.
"I like how I get to do whatever I want when I draw," Catherine says. "I feel good."
So both she and her mother were elated to learn that Catherine had been chosen to receive a scholarship for a visual art course at the Community School of Music and Arts in Mountain View.
CSMA teachers go out to schools throughout the Peninsula, where they teach art and music classes, embedded within the public schools' regular curriculum. CSMA has teachers at every school in the Mountain View Whisman School District, and in about 30 schools from Daly City to San Jose.
Judy Schulze, Catherine's art teacher at Landels, nominated her for the scholarship because of the young girl's intense interest in art.
Catherine is one of 21 elementary and middle school students from Mountain View and other nearby cities chosen by the CSMA for their "talent, dedication and focus" in the art classroom, an official with the CSMA says.
"These scholarships allow children to continue their arts education by choosing a class or art camp to attend at CSMA during the summer or next school year," says Linda Covello, director of CSMA's art school. "Children build on what they have been learning throughout the year in their art class at their local school and continue to develop skills and express their creativity."
Scholarship recipients have the option to take a summer camp course, a spring break course or a once-weekly after-school session.
Nine of the recipients of this year's visual arts scholarships live and attend school in Mountain View, according to Covello. Students from Bubb, Castro, Huff, Landels, Monta Loma, Springer, Stevenson and Theuerkauf were selected.
Many of the students chosen come from families that might otherwise have some difficulty attending the arts school.
Covello says family income is not the only factor considered by the CSMA panel that picks the scholarship finalists -- ability and engagement are seriously considered. However, considering the CSMA's mission -- to provide "arts for all, regardless of age, level, background or economic means" -- in the nominating process art teachers are asked to consider who would benefit most from a class.
Catherine certainly fits all of these criteria, according to her mother. Murphy keeps a tight budget, "though you wouldn't know it from the outside." She says she is constantly scrimping to provide her children first with what they need and then with some of the things they want.
There is no landline phone at home, no cable TV, no tickets to the movies and definitely no trips out of town on spring break. Murphy has managed to save enough money to send her daughter to some after-school CSMA classes in the past, including one this session, but the scholarship has allowed her to send her daughter to another class where Catherine can socialize with one of her friends from Landels.
"We're really grateful," Murphy says.
Catherine says she likes attending classes at CSMA for many reasons. She has access to far more art materials than she has at her home, she can ask an instructor a technique question any time she feels the need to and being around other art students is a constant source of inspiration.
In her words: "I can't think of ideas (for art projects) when I don't see other things."
Murphy says she has seen her daughter's creativity grow by leaps and bounds since she has been taking CSMA classes, but that's not all. "I have seen her grow as an artist, but I've also seen her grow developmentally."
Catherine thinks more creatively now, her mother says, noting that she is constantly planning her next art project -- "It's something she looks forward to doing."