Shining a light on creativity

MEC students gain insight through grant-funded art class

By Traci Chapman

Mustang Education Center alternative students Monday showed their flair for the creative – in the process, learning skills they can take with them long after they graduate from high school and gaining some insight into who they are and what’s important to them.

The class comes courtesy an Oklahoma Arts Council Arts in Education grant for visual and multiple media arts, MEC principal Daryl Williamson said Monday. The $2,375 provides resources that makes it possible for high school students attending the education center to take art as an elective, something not before possible at the site, he said.

“It’s not only a chance for students to take art but also to gain hands on real world experience – she show us who they are and what they believe in, and it gives them a chance to gain some insight into themselves,” Williamson said. “We are so grateful to Oklahoma Arts Council, (grants director) Thomas Tran and Heidi Costello, (OAC grants and programs assistant), for the opportunity to share this with our students.”

“Students don’t have to become artists for arts education to be valuable. Aspiring scientists, doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs, and others, regardless of career pursuit, benefit from the concepts and discipline learned through arts education,” OAC executive director Amber Sharples said Monday. “Arts education is especially effective at keeping students engaged in school, and many students have greater success when a different approach is used in their education – the arts offer one of the best means for giving students an avenue to achieve their academic goals.”

While Williamson sang the praises of the state arts council and its grants staff in providing the resources to make the MEC art class a reality, officials at OAC said a large factor in the success of that class was the principal himself.

“Mr. Williamson has championed the idea of giving his students meaningful opportunities in arts education,” Sharples said. “One of the ways he has done this is by building a relationship with Thomas Tran and Heidi Costello in the Oklahoma Arts Council grants office to make sure his school can take full advantage of our grant funding.”

Education grants offered by the state arts council are designed to meet state requirements, but also to help fund the cost of supplies and other expenses and provide programs not necessarily available or feasible for districts to offer, Sharples said.

“Our Classroom Supply Grants for Visual and Performing Arts and our Small Grant Support for Schools programs complement schools’ existing arts education programs, assisting with the cost of essential supplies needed for sustainability, and providing opportunities for teaching artists to do short-term residencies that are frequently popular with students,” she said.

Last year 591 individual school sites and almost 600,000 students across Oklahoma benefited from class offerings made possible by OAC grant funding, Sharples said.

Mustang Education Center is different from its fellow sites – both in the makeup of its student population and its size as the smallest of Mustang Public School District schools. The school is one of the first places students enter when starting their education in Mustang, with about 20 preschoolers currently attending morning and afternoon sessions; MEC also offers a 3-year-old special needs and newly expanded 4-year-old special needs programs.

“We’re here for jumping in and jumping off – we have students at the very beginning of their schooling and as they graduate,” Williamson said. “It’s actually a really, really great mix.”

The small size of MEC was something true even before the novel coronavirus pandemic caused some families to shift their students to virtual learning. With COVID-19 a factor, the school’s maximum enrollment is now 60 on the high school level, with four teachers educating about 15 students each.

“Those numbers can fluctuate because we have kids graduate early,” Williamson said. “We’ve got a great group of kids who attend the alternative school – some people look at this as students who have issues, but truly it’s just an alternative to the norm, and we’re proud of how so many of them flourish.”

High school students attend regular classes at the education center until they complete their necessary caseload or until the bell rings at 2:10 p.m., the principal said. Then, several students head to Mustang High School to participate in extracurricular activities.

“We have several – they are in band, in the arts, athletics and that’s something that’s really increased,” Williamson said.

One reason for the successes enjoyed by students was the presence of counselor Tricia Robertson, a longtime Mustang school counselor who previously worked at Mustang Elementary and with Williamson when he was assistant principal at Centennial Elementary School. Williamson said he knew Robertson was key to making a real difference for Mustang Education Center.

“She’s just an amazing person and role model, and I credit her with a lot of our success,” he said.

 

Cutline:

Mustang Education Center alternative students Monday participate in a once-weekly special art class funded through an Oklahoma Arts Council grant. The grant provides much more than a creative outlet, officials say.

 

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