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The Newspaper of McDaniel High School

The Oracle

The Newspaper of McDaniel High School

The Oracle

Budget cuts to Pre-K art affect students, staff

Aria Peters
A group of PPS teachers are holding signs advocating for the art program. This is a way that the community is showing their support for students in Head Start.

The free, low-income supporting, early education organization Head Start had to accommodate for a 2.5 million budget-cut from their original 20 million, which is about a 12.5% reduction done by the PPS school board. 

Unlike most Portland Public Schools, Head Start is 100% grant funded, and 90% of that pays for staff salaries. Due to the new labor contracts signed following the teacher strikes in 2023, educator and staff salaries will increase next year, while funding for the program itself will remain the same. This means that  to compromise for enrollment and budget constraints, Portland Head Start will start to make staffing reductions, according to an informational letter released by Senior Director of PK-5 Emily Glasgow and Director of Head Start Dana Stiles. This cut will mostly affect educators of the special electives in the program. 

Teachers Julia Himmelstein and Tara Croft Carmichael manage 600 students, 36 classrooms and nine separate sites all around the city in Head Start’s Art Enrichment Program. To be put into motion as of the next school year, art will not be a part of Head Start and Himmelstein and Carmichael will be unassigned.

PPS’ Forward Together Plan—a strategic plan set forth in 2021 highlighting inclusion and equity throughout the district—boosts the core values of creativity and innovation among students.  Parents are worried that getting rid of the art program will not only disregard these values, but also affect their children’s development, as said in multiple parent-led chain letter writing campaigns sent to the PPS school board advocating for the enrichment program: “Through art lessons with Teacher Tara and Teacher Julia, our children are actively engaged in social emotional learning, critical thinking, social justice, equity, collaboration, and creativity. We cannot afford to throw it away.”

Himmelstein has demonstrated an alternative to traditional learning and believes that her and Carmichael’s curriculum works to uplift every student. 

So much of being in school is doing things the ‘right’ way,” Himmelstein said. “In art, there are infinite possibilities, and children can make something that is authentically their own.” 

Himmelstein and Carmichael use meditative moments and many different forms of art to help their students thrive. This includes clay-making, sumi-ink play, printmaking, tempera painting, chalk drawing and more. 

Carmichael said that these varying forms of creativity are key for young people’s expanding minds. 

Engaging in art activities helps children explore, develop new neural pathways, acquire essential social skills, problem solve, think critically and have fun,” Carmichael said.  “The growth and learning that result from Arts Enrichment are invaluable.” 

Himmelstein said that the parents and PPS advocates have really shown up for her and Carmichael since the announcement of the cut.

We were also unassigned last year, and after loads of community and teacher support the school board put pressure on our director to find funding for our program,” Himmelstein said. Our community has been advocating by writing to the school board and to our administrators, expressing support in meetings, speaking and/or waving signs at school board meetings, working with the teachers’ union.” 

Anne Chenot, a Head Start educator at Clarendon and a PPS parent of 15 years, has shown her utmost support for Himmelstein and Carmichael. 

“Our students are able to communicate and express their thoughts and feelings through their art,” Chenot said. “In our program we have many students impacted by trauma and poverty. Art is a medium that is accessible for all of our students.”

Head Start uses a multiple-faceted approach to learning and takes advantage of the use of art in the classroom regularly. Chenot believes that beyond the exposure to art that a typical classroom teacher provides, both Himmelstein and Carmichael offer something unique and important, especially since they are trained as art educators.  

“These types of lessons are something that I as a classroom teacher simply cannot replicate,” Chenot said. “I do not have the time, experience or materials. Tara and Julia have created lessons that are joyful, engaging, and culturally responsive.” 

While the impact of this budget-cut will hurt Carmichael, Himmelstein and other Head Start teachers, the group most affected by this change will be students, according to an article by the National Head Start Association. 

The NHSA reached out nationwide and asked what a hypothetical 10% funding loss would look like across different city’s individual programs. In New Haven, Connecticut, the Head Start program there released a statement about the impact on quality a budget cut like that would have. 

The statement read: “We are seeing an increase in children’s developmental delays, and this closure to classrooms [due to budget cuts] would have a negative impact on children’s long term success in school, delaying support services especially for children with special needs, as well as allowing their families support and opportunities to work or participate in job training.” 

Additionally, as Carmichael mentioned, art programs are important for youth because they improve motor functions and emotional expression.

“We know that research shows that early childhood is the most important time in a child’s life for brain development,” Chenot said, “ Art is truly transformative and healing for our students.”

The mission for a program like Head Start, which educates many children who are nonverbal or do not have anyone in their class that speaks the same language as them, is to aid in growing their students’ independence and artistic decisions, according to Himmelstein. 

All children can be successful during art, which is particularly important for our students with trauma, students with challenging behaviors, students who speak other languages, etcetera,” Himmelstein said. 

Himmelstein and Carmichael were unassigned in late February but are continuing the fight for equality for external learning. 

“I’ll say, if there is anyone out there who wants to fund this amazing program and grow it to reach more Pre-K’s, reach out to me! I’d love to be a part of that,” Carmichael said. 

You can connect with her at [email protected].

To learn more about the Head Start program and how the funding loss would have its effect, you can watch an educational video on YouTube by Himmelstein called PPS Head Start Art Enrichment Movie 2024.”

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About the Contributor
Aria Peters, Associate Editor/Copy Editor
Aria Peters (she/her) is a sophomore who loves going to concerts and playing piano. She enjoys being a journalist because it allows her to express her viewpoints and creativity.

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