About 18,000 Pittsburgh Public Schools students are enrolled in a visual arts class this fall. The district, though, did not purchase supplies to send to those students while they learn remotely for the first nine weeks of the school year.
Kimberly Cruz, senior program officer for PPS arts education, said those purchases have historically been made out of a school’s individual budget. Schools buy supplies for an entire class to share, not for each student.
Now, the week that school is scheduled to start -- and a week after the originally scheduled start date -- the district is hosting a two-day supply drive for sketchbooks, construction paper, crayons, colored pencils, markers, glue sticks, blunt tip scissors and watercolor paints. The event is Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 8-9 from 2:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. at the Terminal in the Strip District.
Cruz said in a perfect world, the district would have purchased those supplies, but it didn’t happen. She said if she could do it again, the district would have started communication with families about their supply needs much earlier.
“I was under the impression that [the district] would just give the students what they need and the principals wouldn’t have to worry about this spending this year,” she said.
Art classes will look much different this year. The district is giving families the option to enable the cameras on district-issued devices so that they can see their teachers in real time, allowing for demonstrations.
Cruz said giving students needed supplies will hopefully give them a more normal experience.
“This is just the piece that will help them remain creative and really start thinking about imagination and how to explore the world in which they are around using their talents and their creative attributes,” she said.
Yael Silk with the executive director of the Arts Education Collaborative is also concerned about the quality of arts instruction this fall.
She said powerful and meaningful arts learning is possible even with in-person restrictions. The Collaborative works with classroom teachers and found that most school district re-opening plans did not include the arts.
Her organization launched a website last week for its new Creative Learning Network largely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Artist-educators throughout the region have created resources for students and families to engage in the arts virtually with both live and recorded sessions. Many with expertise in creative writing, cultural arts, dance and other disciplines have recorded videos that students can watch on their own time.
Though Silk is excited about the new offering, she said she is worried about the historic pattern of de-prioritizing the arts in favor of tested subject areas like math, science and English Language Arts.
“Local education leaders are needing to make choices among bad options as a direct result of a lack of federal leadership around the COVID crisis and implications for educating our young people,” she said.