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Holiday Fund: Enhancing education through music and art

CSMA partners with local schools to enrich kids from low-wealth families

What do art, chickens, and a very shy little boy have in common? Ask art teacher Whitney Couch, a Community School of Music and Arts (CSMA) teacher working with low-wealth and special needs preschool students, and she might tear up a bit with the following story.

One of her students, she says, "would not look at me or say a word to me" during the first two months of school. "He spoke no English and really saw me as a threat to him."

But earlier this month, Couch says, "he looked me in the eyes and said to me, 'Miss Whitney, art is my best day of the whole week.'" Her reaction? "My heart melted," she recalls.

Couch is one of two CSMA teachers who work with children in the Mountain View Whisman School District's preschool program that's primarily funded by the California Department of Education and Head Start, which supports children from low-wealth families. She and her young charges had been immersed in a lively art project that yielded nests, young chickens, and a chick emerging from an egg -- and in the process, kindled the imagination and zeal of a withdrawn little boy.

"I love making chickens," the boy told Couch after revealing his enthusiasm for art class. "We then proceeded to have a long conversation about chickens and what he knew about them," she says.

Couch and other teachers at CSMA, located in Mountain View, have many stories highlighting the capacity for art and music to make connections, to help children develop a range of abilities, and to enrich the lives of people of all ages.

CSMA is one of seven nonprofit organizations that benefit from the Voice's annual Holiday Fund. Donations to the fund are divided equally among the nonprofits and are administered by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation at no cost, so 100 percent of contributions go to the recipients.

CSMA's art and music instruction in the school district's preschool program "has provided amazing learning experiences for students who would not otherwise have access to these types of enrichment activities," says Terri Wallace-Bielecki, the school district's preschool program director. "Many of their more affluent peers are able to participate in similar enrichment activities outside the context of school, but financial, linguistic and social barriers often prevent our families from enrolling their children in such programs."

The district's preschool teachers, Wallace-Bielecki notes, are excellent specialists in early childhood development, but the CSMA teachers offer expertise in music and hand-on arts instruction, making for a sound collaboration.

"We know that these (art and music) experiences will also enhance development in all other areas of learning, including social, emotional, motor skills, language development and mathematics," she says.

In addition to the preschool program, CSMA partners with the Mountain View Whisman School District to provide music and art instruction at all of its schools, according to CSMA's Sharon Kenney. The nonprofit also has programs at all elementary school grade levels in about 40 schools in 14 school districts throughout Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, she says.

After-school programs at partner elementary schools include choruses and art clubs.

Headquartered in the Finn Center at 230 San Antonio Circle, CSMA also offers a range of classes for children and adults, as well as private instruction.

The center's Tateuchi Hall is a community hub for free concerts, some of which are geared for the family. The center also features art exhibits, and a new "Arts World" program, spotlighting the art, music and cuisine of specific regions of the world, Kenney says.

Go to arts4all.org for more information about CSMA.

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