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  • Words by Stacey Bowers / Photography by Kat Wilson

Art, The Unifier: Rogers Heritage High School Finds Funds to Further an Arts Program that Draws on A


Together, Nakia Brener and Allen Sullivan, both teachers at Rogers Heritage High School in Rogers, Ark., have posted six projects to DonorsChoose.org appealing for supplies to teach arts-related material to their students. Five of those projects received half of their funding from Thea Foundation through Thea’s Art Closet, whose mission is to fill in the gaps where schools lack or don’t prioritize funding for arts materials.

“I am very fortunate to have a school district and principal who support and promote the arts,” Brener said. “That being said, we do have adequate funding for the basic needs of our art program. However, anything beyond basic supplies is something we have to raise money for.”

As art teachers and artists know, art supplies aren’t cheap, and Arkansas teachers often have little to no budget for supplies. Many of them reach into their own pockets to afford their students a better education. When Brener had an idea of a way to engage her students, get them excited to learn and come to class, and infuse history, foreign culture and even math through a paper quilling project, it was out of her budget. She reached to Thea’s Art Closet to help with that obstacle.

Through Thea’s Art Closet, teachers of all subjects in grades K-12 across Arkansas can find funding for materials they’ll use to incorporate the arts and creativity into their lesson plans. Teachers post their proposed project on DonorsChoose.org, where Thea Foundation steps up automatically with half of the funding for creative Arkansas projects of $2,500 or less.

“Without the generous half-match from the Thea Foundation, I doubt my projects would have been funded,” said Brener. “I say this because with one project, I emailed every parent of my students and only got one donation. Over 75% of our student population is economically disadvantaged.”

Many Heritage High School students have limited exposure to and experience with art, but they’re eager to come to her class, she said. “One student told me she had her mother move her physical therapy appointment to before school and woke up extra early for her session because she didn't want to miss 7th hour art,” Brener said. “Another student told me the only reason he comes to school is for art, and he doesn't skip his other classes because then he'd go to in-school suspension and miss art. Another student told me art was his only chance to release his anxiety and stress of his day.”

They may not know it, but Brener’s students aren’t just releasing energy through art. She said she frequently integrates math, science, language arts, history and music into her art lessons. “Many of my high schoolers start the year with the mentality that art is their ‘blow-off elective class,’ and I make it a goal to show them how art is relevant and applicable in their environment, experiences and future careers,” Brener expounded. “It also helps students have a more concrete and tangible understanding of math when we discuss linear perspective; of science when we discuss chemical compositions of glazes; of history when we consider events and their impact visually represented through artwork; and of verbal/written communication when we use the elements and principles of art to describe, analyze, interpret and evaluate artwork through critiques.”

“Ceramics in particular can easily become a lesson in geometry, algebra, or chemistry,” Sullivan added. “I try to pay attention when planning my lessons to call attention to these and use them as examples of how important art is to science and math and also how important math and science are to art.” He noted that, in his next Thea’s Art Closet project, he hopes to procure a slab roller so his students can create slabs of ceramic for geometric building.

Thanks to the generous support of donors during 2016’s Arkansas Gives event, Thea Foundation was able to double its Thea’s Art Closet budget for the 2016-17 school year, meaning $100,000 worth of quality art supplies will be awarded to classrooms in need, and the funding ceiling for each project has gone up to $2,500 from $600, meaning teachers will be able to get help funding more expensive arts-related tools and bigger projects.

Funding is now available, and we encourage all teachers eager to incorporate the arts into their lessons to submit their projects to user-friendly DonorsChoose.org. If you’re an Arkansas teacher with a creative project of $2,500 or less that meets Thea's standards, Thea Foundation will kick in with half of the funding, so you’ll be quickly on your way to your students’ next impactful learning adventure.

Click here to learn more about Thea's Art Closet and to kickstart your first project!

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