PORT ANGELES — The 20 first-graders in Jennifer Soule’s class at Franklin Elementary School were on a mission: pull the seed coat off a bean, break it in half and try to find the teeny, tiny dot that was the beginning of a plant inside.
Next, they watched a time-lapse video of a seed germinating. Then, they made a collage of a plant out of construction paper, pipe cleaners, a straw, a coffee filter and a sprinkling of seeds.
The lesson was one of many Mandy Miller, the youth programs coordinator at the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center, teaches in three Port Angeles School District schools as part of Creative Start, a grant-funded program that integrates the arts into learning. In June, students’ artwork will be showcased in the exhibition “Blooming Artists,” which will open at the center on June 1.
“We want to align our lessons to go along with whatever science the teachers are doing in their classroom,” Miller said. “It just so happens that after spring break many of the first-grade teachers do plant science or plant life — anything that has to do with plants and how they grow.”
Since April, Miller has been teaching Creative Start lessons to first-graders at Franklin and Jefferson elementary schools and second-graders at Dry Creek Elementary. She visits two classrooms a day.
“I have been going at a feverish pace, but it’s fun,” said Miller, who is often assisted by Amelia Depue, the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center Clallam County Extension Farm to School coordinator.
This is the second year Creative Start has been offered in the district and administered by the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center. The statewide program from the Washington State Arts Commission supports arts integration for early learners. The district’s grant — $24,301 in 2022 and $24,270 in 2023 — underwrites center staff time, teaching materials and supports putting on the “Blooming Artists” exhibition.
Port Angeles Fine Art Center Executive Director Christine Loewe had been volunteering at Franklin’s school garden before the Creative Start program arrived, working with teachers to utilize the space as a learning tool, but it didn’t have an art component.
“Prereaders or early readers might not have the ability to articulate their learning as easily by writing things down, but by demonstrating through visual art that they understand the parts and pieces of things, then they are communicating that learning,” Loewe said.
Loewe and Miller developed the Creative Start lessons and curriculum together.
“The key thing about it is that it is tied to Washington state standards,” Loewe said. “We follow Washington state science standards and Washington state art standards, so every one of our lesson plans identifies which standards we’re meeting so that teachers can have that information.”
Soule said Creative Start supported and reinforced what her students were learning in other class activities, such as a field trip they took to the Olympic National Park Visitor Center, where they studied plants and used microscopes.
“I do think they’ve seen a lot of connections, and I do think it there is engagement,” Soule said.
Miller said she and Loewe tried to make Creative Start as easy as possible for teachers by creating all of the lessons, buying the materials and having everything ready at the start of class.
Loewe and Miller said they wanted to develop a sustainable program by building it up, creating connections to the curriculum and giving teachers a reason to use the school gardens.
“We realize that teachers can’t always do all the work that goes into this,” Miller said. “So, we’re trying to develop it so that teachers of all grades and levels can take these lessons and bring their kids out into gardens, get them outside, get them learning about the natural world.”
As part of the program, teaching artists will also work with students to create artwork that will be exhibited in “Blooming Artists.:
Loewe estimated there will be about 400 pieces of student art in this year’s exhibition.
Blooming Artists, June 1-25, reception from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. June 6.
Port Angeles Fine Arts Center, 1203 Lauridsen Blvd.