Portland Arts Tax helps students get creative even in COVID times

Multnomah County

"We're learning about each other in ways we wouldn't otherwise in the classroom."

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Comprehensive distance learning has not stopped the creativity in schools across Portland — as some teachers have gotten extra creative in their approach to engage students.

It’s been almost a decade since Portlanders approved the annual $35 Portland Arts Tax. It restored arts education in all of Portland’s public elementary schools in six districts — and just because there’s online distance learning — doesn’t mean that money isn’t being used.

“We’re still able to teach regular music content,” Jessica Juday, a music teacher at West Powellhurst Elementary School said. “I have a lot of props like rhythm legos, I have my slide whistle for vocal warmups, I’ve got puppets for engagement for the little kids.

Juday has daily online interactions with her students. Her job is one of 100 that’s funded through the Portland Arts Tax, which was approved by voters in 2012. At the time, about 11,000 students in Portland had no arts education.

Jay Longfellow, an art teacher at James John Elementary, says the Arts Tax money is funding positions like his.

Teachers and their schools are making sure kids are still getting art supplies during the pandemic.

“Sometimes it’s a packet that gets sent home, sometimes there are supplies that get provided by the district that get sent home — clay, paint, pastels that kind of thing,” he said.

Photos courtesy: PPS Photo Gallery

In some ways, Juday and Longfellow say distance learning even has some benefits when it comes to the arts.

“We’re learning about each other in ways we wouldn’t otherwise in the classroom,” Juday explained.

Longfellow agreed, saying, “When they’re working from home, they’re putting a lot of their home experiences into it — not a better or worse thing, but definitely a different thing.”

The Arts Tax also expands access to arts and culture for Portland residents. The deadline to pay it is May 17th this year — along with filing your other taxes.

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