R.E.A.L. – Relevant Engagement through Art and Literacy – launched in the 2016-17 school year with 12 teachers from across the district participating in a collaborative project modeled after McLane High School’s award-winning ArtVenture Academy work. The vision was to connect powerful, socially relevant themes within a variety of texts and art culminating in exhibits of student art and writing during the citywide monthly ArtHop events promoted by the Fresno Arts Council. This experience over the past several years has been incredibly powerful for students, teachers, families, and the Fresno community.
Themes explored have included, “Community Is…”, “Barriers”, “Freedom”, “I Am Priceless”, “What is Home?”, the “75th Anniversary of Japanese Incarceration”, “Human Trafficking”, and the “100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage”. Students participating range from transitional kindergarten through 12th grade. By 2018-19, R.E.A.L. teachers and students from all seven regions were participating. This experience over the past several years has been powerful for students, teachers, families, and the Fresno community. Students are growing through their engagement with literature and art, building empathy and developing a strong voice of advocacy across the district that was expressed through curated art exhibitions each month during the school year at the M Street Arts Complex.
Because the collaborative is so successful, the district expanded the gallery space from 733 square feet to 1,804 square feet for 2019-20. As a result, more students and teachers are included. Approximately 50 classrooms from elementary to adult transition students participated in 2019-20, compared to the pilot group of a dozen teachers in 2016. With the support of district leaders and the Fresno Unified Board of Education, art supplies, literature, professional development and supplemental contracts are provided to participating teachers.
While in a distance learning model, this work continues in 2020-21. Although the community cannot be in the same physical space this school year for the R.E.A.L. Collaborative art exhibitions, the District is developing an equally professional website for curated online gallery space. This virtual platform will now allow community members from across the country to see the work of Fresno Unified School District students.