The Los Altos Art Docents kicked off the new school year with a fall seminar Sept. 10 at the Adobe House in Mountain View.
San Jose Museum of Art docent Elizabeth Ryono, assisted by docents Shauna Mika, Susanne Offensend and Evelyn Neeley, spoke to 70 returning docents and 11 new trainees on the use of visual thinking strategies in the teaching of art appreciation.
Los Altos School District Superintendent Tim Justus, Assistant Superintendent Jeff Baier and district board members Margot Harrigan and David Luskin also attended the seminar.
Visual thinking strategies use observation techniques as the students discuss and explore a particular work of art, which they discuss among themselves with a facilitator docent. The method attempts to develop overall critical thinking and improve group participation and listening skills.
Baier, in opening remarks to the group, said that joy should be a component in education – that feeling of self-awareness when you learn something new. He said a large percentage of district students are visual learners who benefit from the docents' visual-arts program.
Harrigan, a Los Altos Art Docent, said that art curriculum is not funded in the state of California. Fewer than 10 percent of the elementary districts in the state have art programs, and even fewer receive the curriculum the Los Altos Art Docents program provides.
Gloria Dralla is the chairwoman of the 38-year-old volunteer organization. The docents write and develop the 49 hands-on and appreciation units introduced into the elementary school classroom.
In addition, each spring the Los Altos Art Docents sponsors a districtwide Art Show at the Hillview Community Center in which every student in the district exhibits a piece of art.
This school year, docents are scheduled to teach approximately 970 units to more than 4,260 students in the seven district elementary schools, the equivalent of at least two full-time teachers.
Dralla said that docents come from different countries and work backgrounds and are not limited to parents with children in the district. Docents tend to stay in the program longer than their children are in the elementary schools.
Betty Latta, who teaches watercolor through the art docent program, has been volunteer teaching for 30 years.
Financial support for the docents comes from grants from the Los Altos Education Foundation, private donations and contributions from the PTAs and the Los Altos School District, which provides office space at the Covington district office for two part-time paid coordinators.
The Los Altos Art Docents program is seeking volunteers with an interest in teaching art to elementary school students. No special background in the visual arts or artistic talent is necessary. Trainees can assist in the classroom according to their comfort level.
For more information, visit www.losaltosartdocents.org.