Potential Elimination Of Cody Elementary Art Teachers Brings Up Importance Of Art For Youth

Apr 5, 2021

Victoria Bush has been teaching art at the Cody Elementary Schools for three years.

"I've got one kiddo that, you know, he does struggle academically, but he's got kind of like a spunk," she said.

Bush said the student always wants to do the assignment his own way. "And I think that maybe it can be tough in the classroom. But I think within art that's exactly what you're looking for."

She said he's so creative and really comes out of his shell when he's creating art in her classroom.

"It's amazing to see a kid that does struggle maybe in other classrooms and other settings really feel proud of something that he's doing, and really be a leader in the classroom, whereas maybe that's not an opportunity that he would get otherwise," said Bush.

For Bush, this student is a perfect example of why exposure to art in elementary school is so important. So when she heard her position was a proposed cut, she worried the most about the kids.

"I know that there's so many kids that struggle academically or maybe they do great academically, but art is still something that they're really passionate about," she said.

Art education has grown over the last 25 years in Cody. Steve Shrepferman, Park County Arts Council executive director, said that's when he moved to the area and noted there were no art opportunities for younger children.

"All these long corridors of hallways, empty. And the occasional classroom that had hung artwork outside, it all seemed to be torn out coloring book pages that were covered with crayon," recalled Shrepferman.

Shrepferman sought change and not long after, Art on a Cart started. That was an art instructor visiting the elementary schools and helping teachers teach art. Shrepferman said those in the district soon realized the impact art can have on young people.

"The arts can explain difficult concepts that kids have to deal with, whether it's in science or mathematics, and the arts can provide a different way of explaining it."

Eventually, the district hired two full-time positions. Those same positions are likely going to be eliminated. Shrepferman said he's appalled but also understands the tight spot the district is in.

"I'm a huge advocate for those positions. Love, love those individuals. They're a positive part of our district," said Stefanie Bell, Park County School District #6 School Board Trustee Vice Chair. "I wish that things were different and that we could offer those positions."

Bell said it comes down to budget and mandates. The school district is anticipating as much as a 12 percent cut in money that they get from the state. Most of their money goes to personnel, salaries, and benefits, so that's where the reductions will come from.

"What we as a district did was we offered retirement incentives to our certified staff, in hopes that incentivizing retirements would be a win-win," she said.

Bell said because of the budget cuts the district has to use its available money on required programs, such as the newly mandated subject: computer science. This will require either training or hiring new teachers qualified to teach that subject.

Outgoing art teacher Victoria Bush said teaching art will now fall to other elementary teachers.

"It's a disservice to the kids. I think there's a lot of teachers that aren't as comfortable with it. And that are gonna struggle," she said.

She said she hopes the community can rally to figure out some kind of arts opportunity for elementary kids.

The board will vote on Tuesday, April 7, to finalize the cuts. But school board member Stefanie Bell said the district can always choose to reopen these positions if the cuts aren't as large as thought.