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Pushing art on a cart

Teachers say it will be hard to make art classes come alive if they lose their portable classrooms and must roam the schools with carts.

Some elementary art teachers will become portable teachers after being pushed out of their portable classrooms, the first casualties of a state crackdown on the temporary school buildings.

The teachers will be moved out of their portable classrooms and forced to roll carts from class to class next year as Hillsborough's school district reduces its 1,800 temporary buildings to 650. The district is cutting its portable classrooms to meet a state deadline requiring it to eliminate portable classrooms that are not up to code by July 1.

Because art classes are not part of the core curriculum and many of the schools are already packed, regular classroom teachers will be given a priority. Art teachers with nowhere to go inside the buildings will have to put their supplies on the cart and store their materials and artwork elsewhere in the schools.

"It's a nightmare for us," said Joe Testasecca, the county's coordinator of visual and performing elementary arts. "Nobody likes the idea of having to go on a cart."

It is unclear how many art teachers will be affected. But so far, 16 schools have told the school district they will need carts for art teachers next year. Ninety-eight of the district's 109 elementary schools have art programs.

Some parents and teachers say the cut in classrooms is a step back, an assault that could diminish the contribution of the arts in a child's learning. They fear many projects such as sculpture, 3-D objects and large-scale painting could be lost. And they worry about a reduction in time devoted to art since teachers will have to use critical instructional minutes to set up and clean up in the borrowed rooms.

"Art is one of the ways children learn," said Carol Skelton, an art teacher at Colson Elementary School who could lose her classroom. "It's a subject as worthy as reading and mathematics."

Art teachers said the only solution is for the state to make art a part of the core curriculum at the elementary level and for the schools to make more room for art teachers.

Currently, children at most elementary schools spend about 45 minutes a week in art class. Art teachers see almost every child in the schools, regardless of grade level.

Arts education in Hillsborough elementary schools began in 1989. At the time, many teachers used carts until schools made classroom space available.

"We found out it didn't work that well," Testasecca said. "I was in the cart years ago at Ballast Point (Elementary School). I wasn't exactly a happy camper."

The Legislature has ordered the elimination of the portables, which must be retrofitted to new codes and made to withstand strong winds. Many of the buildings that were built before 1993 will be destroyed, sold or given to charity, said Vince Sussman, the county's general director of resource management.

Several principals said they have no choice but to take away classroom space from art teachers.

"It's a hard decision to make," said Todd Schofer, principal of Lanier Elementary School, whose art teacher is set to lose her classroom next year. "It's just being made because of a limitation of space."

Testasecca said he's holding out hope that the schools will be able to find a permanent home for the art teachers but has decided to order additional carts just in case.

"We're still fighting the deadline," he said.

Several parents at Cannella Elementary School, which expects to lose its art classrooms, said they're happy to see some portable classrooms removed but they don't want arts education to be slighted in the process.

"They need to find a place for it," said Liza Aleman, who has a kindergartener and a first-grader at Cannella in northwest Hillsborough. "Art is important. That's how children express themselves."

Lisa Klassen said her 9-year-old son, Kyle, has benefited tremendously from the school's arts program. In February, he painted pictures of African-American leaders and learned about their contributions. He also made a small clay pot, which was fired, that he keeps in his room.

"This is terrible," Klassen said. "I'm afraid they're going to hurt the development of the children."

Some teachers worry that arts education is thought of only as a fun activity such as arts and crafts. But they say it's much more.

Children learn about history, culture, problem-solving, organization and cooperation.

They fear that if art is only taught from a cart, it could be reduced to drawing, cutting and pasting.

"Taking space away from teachers is obviously a decision made by people who are too far removed from the classroom setting," said Steve Henry, art teacher at Claywell Elementary School, which could lose its art classrooms. "We have legislators who are not in the schools and they have no idea what the impact of these decisions are."

From classrooms to carts

The 16 elementary schools that have requested carts for their art teachers next year are Sulphur Springs, Colson, Foster, Bryan, Lopez, Folsom, Forest Hills, Lanier, Claywell, McDonald, Carrollwood, Cannella, Egypt Lake, Gibsonton, Mintz and Bing.

_ Melanie Ave can be reached at (813) 226-3473 or melaniesptimes.com.

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