Toledo Elementary Brings Art To Students

Toledo Elementary Brings Art To Students

Posted on April 5, 2024

Toledo Elementary School (ToES) students now have high-quality art education thanks to a partnership with the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology.

Young students are often lacking arts in school, especially in rural communities where access to art education is increasingly limited due to budget constraints. The Sitka Youth Program aims to address this gap by providing opportunities for self-expression, creativity, and engagement, which are crucial for overall student development and well-being.

Working from a two-year Oregon Department of Education grant, the pilot Sitka Youth Art Program is focused on low-income, rural schools that currently do not have an art program. The grant partially covers the costs for Sitka to administer and deliver the program, and to subsidize the costs to make it affordable for participating schools and free for kids and families. Toledo Elementary is the first school in LCSD to participate in this program.

While studies continue to show vital connections between art education access, self-expression and esteem, and overall school engagement and performance, as school budgets are cut, dedicated time, trained teachers and other resources for art in K-8 schools are increasingly rare, especially in rural Oregon communities.

According to the Oregon Department of Education’s 2022 Well-Rounded Access Program Needs Assessment, “Students in rural communities have significantly less access to arts courses in their public schools than other student groups, with 45% of elementary students in rural communities attending a school without a standalone course in any arts discipline.”

LCSD Superintendent Majalise Tolan worked with Sitka to jumpstart the program.  “Sequential and content connected art education is important for the social, emotional, and academic development of our students and a vital part of a well-rounded education where creativity and self-expression can flourish,” Tolan said. Tolan is working with Sitka to expand this partnership next year to all Lincoln County elementary schools that could benefit from the program. Oceanlake and Taft Elementary schools have partnered with the Lincoln City Cultural Center for a similar art program in their schools. 

Toledo-based artist Kim Bush was selected to join the Sitka team as the ToES-based art instructor, bringing with her a deep connection to the local community. Bush visits individual classrooms each month to present a curriculum that is as educational as it is engaging. 

For Bush, who also works as a substitute teacher in LCSD, this is her dream job. “We get to be outside traditional learning but really make a big impact,” she said. The art curriculum integrates concepts the students are already learning from sciences, social studies and vocabulary.

The art program isn’t just about learning the basics of art. One key aspect of the Sitka Youth Program is its emphasis on cultural relevance and diversity. “We intentionally showcase artists and art movements that reflect the populations our program reaches,” explained Alison Dennis, Sitka Executive Director. “Cultural representation helps everyone see themselves in the artists and examples we feature and naturally helps deepen cultural understanding and empathy among students and school-wide.”

Dennis said they are overjoyed by the response they are receiving about the program. “As a longstanding Oregon coast nonprofit with deep roots in Tillamook and Lincoln counties, our priority will always be serving rural coastal kids in our local communities with highest quality arts and STEAM experiences that encourage school engagement and that kids and teachers look forward to and love.”

Additional foundation grants and individual donations are essential to bring the program into new rural schools and communities. Lincoln County citizens and philanthropists who believe in the importance of art access and are interested in this work are encouraged to contact Dennis directly at (541) 994-5485 or