Springdale elementary school teacher Julia Crane — whose classroom is about 30 percent Marshallese — applied for THEA funding to have ukuleles, an instrument that plays a large part in Marshallese culture, in her classroom.

What if science lessons were taught through clay models or historical timelines presented through theatrical performances? Interweaving core school subjects with creative instruction methods can pique students’ interest while helping them grasp new concepts in the classroom.

For many teachers around Arkansas, however, their creative and arts-based teaching methods can’t come to fruition without additional funding. That’s where Thea Foundation steps in.

According to Nick Leopoulos, executive director of Thea Foundation, the organization’s Art Closet program increases arts accessibility for classrooms where a budget for art supplies may not exist. Last year, Art Closet funded 145 different projects in classrooms at 88 public schools across the state.

At North Little Rock High School, for example, dance instructor Christen Pitts applied for funding to purchase dance costumes for students, since many of them cannot afford to purchase the outfits themselves and the school does not provide a budget for attire.

Pitts knows that dance instruction reaches beyond learning dance skills, which is what makes it so important.

“Students who dance have a reason to come to school,” she said. ““They can express themselves, get out emotions through movement, their grades are better, and they learn time management skills.”

Rojay Moore, band instructor at Hall High School in Little Rock, is another recipient of funding from Art Closet. He was able to add more instruments to the school’s supply through the program.

He said that without the additional instruments, students would not be able to practice at home because they would need to be shared between multiple classes. However, Moore knows that giving students responsibility to practice and improve is key to their success.

“We have a wonderful group of students who have so much potential in the arts and in music,” Moore said.”They have creativity but oftentimes have not had the proper outlets to channel that creative energy, hence, they are reluctant to share their gifts and talents. So now, this year, I am really pulling those gifts and talents out of them and sharpening their skills.”

Teachers at any grade level can apply for funding so that they can bring the arts to life in their classrooms, helping students learn through creative outlets.

For one elementary school teacher in Springdale, the funding was about helping students feel at home. Julia Crane said her classroom is about 30 percent Marshallese, and some of those students struggle to succeed.

“Although many find success in our schools, some still struggle academically,” Crane said. “The adjustment to American schools and culture can leave a student insecure and unaware of their individual strengths.”

Her solution? Applying for funding for ukuleles for her classroom, an instrument that plays a large part in Marshallese culture.

“Knowledge of their culture allows us to build on their musical talents and provide an opportunity for these children to feel a sense of pride in themselves and their culture,” Crane said. “The more I showcase their skills, the more they begin to realize that what they can do is quite remarkable.”

How to Apply

To date, Thea’s Art Closet has given more than $1.5 million in art supplies to hundreds of underfunded schools across the state.

According to Leopoulos, the program will award $100,000 in supplies through submitted projects this 2019-2020 school year.

“Since our available funding has increased for the 2019-20 school year, Thea Foundation is now allowing applicable teachers to submit two projects per semester — or four projects per year — for funding through our Art Closet program,” Leopoulos said.

According to Thea Foundation, high school teachers are eligible for up to $1,250 funding for a project valued at $2,500 or less; middle school teachers are eligible for up to $750 funding for a project valued at $1,500 or less and elementary school teachers are eligible for up to $500 funding for a project valued at $1,000 or less.

When a teacher launches an arts-focused or arts-infused project, Thea Foundation will review the application and contribute with up to half of the funding needed. Then, teachers share it with colleagues, friends and family through DonorsChoose, a website that makes the project available to a global audience and to huge corporate and nonprofit donors.

When a project’s funding goal is met, DonorsChoose purchases and delivers the supplies directly to the school. For more information and to apply for funding, visit TheaFoundation.org or email Leopoulos at Nick@TheaFoundation.org.