The Arts Issue – May 2019 Hilander Highlights

arts infographic

If we were to make a word bubble of what our students say about their arts classes and clubs, these words would be the largest: acceptance, family, laughter, confidence-building, where I can be myself…

The arts are truly powerful. With 24 classes at Kelso High alone this year, we’re proud to offer a robust selection of offerings to enhance the learning and lives of our students.

Here’s some information, by the numbers, about the arts at KHS.  (Here’s a printer-friendly pdf of the May issue.)


  • 200: students enrolled in 2018/19 music classes
  • 5: teachers
  • 10: music classes offered
  • 3: after school bands
  • 64: musical performances this year
  • 29: students went to state competition this April
  • 5: students made all-state honor groups
  • 180: hours marching band practices for 9 performances
  • 30: leadership positions in KHS music offerings


  • 139: enrollment in 2018/19 theater classes
  • 2: theater classes offered
  • 5: theatrical shows this year
  • 25: active members in the Theatre Club
  • $3,500: average cost to put on a musical theater production
  • $2,000: average cost to put on a theater production
  •             (rights, posters, programs, sets, lights, advertising)
  • 9: fundraisers this year to support productions


  • 1200: enrollment in 2018/19 visual arts classes
  • 4: teachers
  • 12:  art classes offered
  • 2,700: ceramics pieces per year fired in the KHS kiln
  • 8: pieces of art from KHS students have hung in the U.S. Capitol
  • 100+ pieces of art framed for the Spring Art Show each year

Arts in Education Matters

  • Sustained learning in music and theater correlates strongly with higher achievement in both math and reading.[1]
  • Not only does music improve skills in math and reading, but it promotes creativity, social development, personality adjustment, and self-worth.[2]
  • Students who study art are 4 times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement and 3 times more likely to be awarded for school attendance.[3]
  • Curricular and extracurricular art studies and activities help keep high-risk dropout students stay in school.[4]
  • High school students who earned few or no arts credits were five times more likely not to have graduated than students who earned many arts credits.[5]
  • Students who had intensive arts experiences in high school were three times more likely than students who lacked those experiences to earn a bachelor’s degree. They also were more likely to earn “mostly A’s” in college. [5]
  • Performing arts students show greater flexibility and adaptability in thinking than their peers.[6]
  • Students who participate in the arts develop leadership skills, including decision-making, strategy building, planning, and reflection. [6]
  • Students who have had an arts-rich education volunteer more often and exhibit greater civic engagement than other students. [6]
  • Students with higher involvement in the arts scored better on measures of persistence than their peers with lower arts involvement. [6]

We Are Kelso Spotlights:


[1] Americans for the Arts. “Summary of Key Additional Arts Education Research and Facts.”

[2] Weinberger, Norman M. “The Music in Our Minds.” Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, University of California.

[3] National Endowment for the Arts. “Re-Investing in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools.”

[4] National School Boards Association. “Prediction: Identifying potential dropouts.” The Center for Public Education.

[5] National Endowment for the Arts. “The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth.”

[6]  Arts Education Partnership (AEP). “Preparing Students for the Next America.”

We Are Kelso: Breaking out of their shells in Theatre Club

Theatre Club

If you walk by the KHS auditorium on any given day after school, you’re likely to hear people running lines, breaking out in song, or letting out big belly laughs. It’s the Theatre Club holding their regular meeting. The 25 active members are most likely rehearsing, building sets, or planning fundraisers for the two main productions they put on each school year. They may also just be doing a little bit of team bonding. Not that they really need it.

“We’re all family here,” explained Braden Lesh. “Everyone loves each other.”

Maekaili Russell agrees, “It’s everything we go through that makes us a family. We get to understand each other through the process of working together.”

There’s an overwhelming feeling of appreciation and acceptance among the group that’s easy to see; making the vulnerability that comes with acting and performing a little easier.

“Once you enter, you understand that no one will judge you for anything. At all,” Taya Deal emphasized. “You can do the chicken dance and people would join you.”

This year, the club has put on Arsenic and Old Lace and Love’s Labour’s Lost. The dedicated group is completely self-funded. With the average play costing about $2,000 to produce, and the average musical costing $3,500, fundraising is a near constant endeavor. Being part of Theatre Club also requires a fair amount of DIY time, as the students build, paint, disassemble and rebuild their own sets. For all that these students put in, they get even more out.

“I struggle with anxiety and theater helps me break from that shell,” shared Lauren Cramtom. “I can get up and perform for people, but I can’t always talk to them. It helps me realize that people aren’t so scary.”

Rowan Bratton added, “Since being in theater, I’m able to show more of my emotions.” And Levi Redmill said, “Theater helped me build more lasting and meaningful relationships; and how to help others when they’re not feeling great.”

With added benefits like that, it’s no wonder club alumni come back to support current members. Some even travel quite a way to do it, like Michael McMahon who takes a six-hour train ride from Western Washington University to see shows.

That’s not really too surprising to club advisor Sharayah Lovell, whose own passion for theater is hard to beat. She’s been doing theater since she was in third grade and is quick to say one of the best things is “getting to experience this thing I love with them. These kids are phenomenal.”

We Are Kelso: The transformative power of arts in education

At Kelso High School, the arts are alive and well. The robust program has 24 classes taught by 10 passionate teachers; and the quality of their teaching is evidenced by the many successes of their students.

For example, in band, 29 students went to state competition this April, five students made all-state honor groups and another 16 are part of other honor bands. Visual arts students bring home numerous regional awards every year, and KHS students have won first place in the Ceramics Showcase in Portland for the last three years in a row. Thirteen theater students are active members in the International Thespian Society, and 16 more are eligible for induction, which takes place at the end of the year. These are just a handful of the many accomplishments stemming from the arts departments.

Even more important and impressive than the awards and accolades is the growth and development of the students. And that blossoms so well due to the culture nurtured in these classes.

“The kids are really supportive of each other. There’s never a judgmental vibe, so it’s a safe place for them,” said art teacher TJ Frey. “When they trust us, and each other, enough to really put themselves out there, that’s when you see really cool art.”

Theater teacher Sharayah Lovell agrees, and has seen students go from being nervous or shy to being able to explore characters and “stand up in front of people and say anything. They learn how to be vulnerable.”

Arts education also has a unifying force. “We all come from different homes, religions, backgrounds,” says band teacher Daniel Hartley. “That doesn’t matter, because for the next 10 minutes we’re all going to play ONE piece of music together.”

All the arts teachers agree that the classes are about more than the name in the course catalog. “We have a saying here,” Hartley confirms, “you’re here to learn about music and life.”

Frey adds, “It’s about expression, whether it’s band or art or theater. It’s about acceptance, that safe space to develop yourself. The arts lend themselves to self-discovery.”

Indeed, they do.

Where we’re at with Early Learning

(Click here for the printable info-graphic version of this Hilander Highlights)

We’re seeing a steady decline in the number of kids coming to school ready for kindergarten. Some of the ways lack of readiness shows up is in a student’s ability (or not) to walk in lines, self-regulate, work with others, identify letters, or recognize their own name when it’s written.

Early learning is one of our top district priorities. In addition to providing additional supports for teachers to meet kids where they are, we’re working on ways to help more kids come to kindergarten ready to learn.

Percent of Kelso School District kids ready in all 6 areas of development over time:

kinder readiness over time


Percent of Kelso School District kids ready by area of development in 2018-19:

by area of development


# of Development Areas
K-Ready in 2018

Kelso SD

WA Longview SD

Vancouver SD

0 of 6


7.8% 13.9%


6 of 6


44.9% 25.4%



Percent of qualifying kids in Head Start programs:

  • 95% in Longview
  • 50% in Kelso (due to lack of space)


What we’re doing to help:

  • The district is looking for more space for Head Start programs and partnerships
  • We’re looking for grants to fund kindergarten readiness training for ALL pre-K and day care providers and teachers in Kelso.


Did you know?

  • 71% of kids who are behind when starting kindergarten are still behind in 5th grade (Children’s Reading Foundation)
  • 70% of the achievement gap is created before the beginning of second grade and most likely between birth and kindergarten (Northwest Evaluation Association)


What care givers can do:

  • 20 minutes of reading a day builds attachment, resilience and empathy
  • Label household items so kids see letters in relation to things
  • Play with purpose
    • Find all the red vegetables
    • Count toys in a box
    • Identify shapes

Look at the Readiness Family Checklist by Spokane Public Schools for more:

We Are Kelso: Kindergarten teachers work on closing the readiness gap

The number of kids entering kindergarten ready to learn in Kelso has been on a steady decline for the last three years. Kinder teachers in the district are seeing the impacts of that readiness gap, and having to find ways to lessen it.

“I consistently observe gaps in social-emotional and literacy,” said Megan Berry, kindergarten teacher at Catlin Elementary.

“Kindergartners are entering with few tools to deal with their social-emotional needs,” agreed Barnes Elementary teacher Julie Brigman.  “Yet, it feels like they need the tools more now than ever.”

“To aide in this, we spend the fall teaching kids how to problem solve and manage emotions effectively,” said Cherie Gaston, another kindergarten teacher at Barnes. “We teach, practice, and encourage them to apply these skills in order to improve their ability to self-regulate and be competent socially & emotionally.”

In addition to social-emotional and literacy, other areas of development include physical, cognitive, language, and math. Gaston and Brigman have noticed gaps in all six areas. “The one that has the most impact, though, is language,” said Gaston. “We are trying to mitigate that gap by creating language rich classrooms full of exposure to books, new vocabulary and experiences, conversation, environmental print…”

“We use GLAD strategies (Guided Language Acquisition and Design) and have seen improvement in our students’ oral language skills with the use of Open Court (a reading program) in our classrooms,” said Brigman.

All three teachers agree that the importance of early learning can’t be overstated. “Students with preschool experience have advantages both academically and socially,” said Berry. These students come in recognizing letters and numbers, and are more prepared for classroom structure.

“Students that attend quality early learning programs start school with a toolbox full of skills,” said Brigman, “which helps them have an easier and often more successful transition into elementary school.”

Wherever they’re at when they come in, the growth in these students is impressive. “Kindergarten is the best because you see so many gains academically and socially,” said Berry.

Gaston and Brigman concur. “Many of our students began the year knowing zero to few letters and sounds, and in the spring, they are beginning to read and write sentences,” said Gaston. “Their social-emotional growth coupled with their language development, is tremendous too.”

“You start with kids unable to verbally share a complete thought or make friends, and end with them able to problem solve and brimming with new friendships,” said Brigman.

We Are Kelso: The life-changing power of preschool

pre-school class

Jennilee Dunlap’s class at Catlin Elementary is one of five preschool classes in the district, and is the only medically fragile developmental preschool class. Some students in the class have high medical needs, some have disabilities that require one-to-one support, and some have challenges socially or emotionally; all her students receive specially designed instruction.

“The students in my class are all at different skill levels,” Dunlap said. “Some students come in knowing how to identify their name in print, some kids can already identify letters, and others cannot point to pictures or turn pages in a book. I started the year teaching all of these things.”

Given specific and consistent support for academic development as well as social and emotional skills, the children in Dunlap’s class make great strides.

“I have seen all levels of improvement in my students. One student was unable to communicate without mimicking single words (i.e., hi, more, moo, etc.). She is now able to independently use words, combine some words (i.e.  go play, cracker please, etc.), and she is able to get her needs met when she does this,” shared Dunlap. Another student has made so much progress that she was able to drop two areas of special education services.

If you ask Dunlap about the importance of early learning programs, she’ll tell you they’re life-changing.

“I have personally and professionally seen the difference an early learning program can make for a child. It can make the greatest difference, especially for students who have borderline or low skills in adaptive, social/emotional, cognitive, communication, fine motor, or gross motor areas. Some students have entered our program with very limited skills, but have made such good progress they are able to be in general education kindergarten classes.”

Dunlap believes if we had more programs available for more students (with and without special education services) in our community, more kids could start kindergarten with the pre-academic knowledge, the behavior management practice, and the social skills to participate and succeed.

“We have an amazing opportunity to grow our early learning programs to meet the needs of the kids in our community. I am excited to see how Kelso will work together to support our youngest students in the future.”

We Are Kelso: Kelso’s SLC Mentors changing everything for nine Wallace students

For one hour, one day a week, true magic happens in the structured learning classroom (SLC) at Wallace. The nine students in that class are there because their behavioral needs or mental health benefits from a more supported and structured environment. On Thursdays, they get a very special visit that just may be changing everything for them.

One or two students from the Kelso High School SLC visit the Wallace SLC to do an activity with them. What looks like play, is really a powerful form of mentoring.

“It’s a beautiful thing when they see a teenager who was right where they are,” said Nancy Baldwin, Instructional Aide at Kelso High. “Each one of these littles has related to one of the teenagers we bring in some way.”

The high school students do puzzles or play with putty with the elementary students. It’s during this play time that magic happens. They talk about how they, too, have struggled to control their anger; or how they know how hard it can be to adjust to new medications.

“When I was little, I had no one to talk to like this,” said Nathaniel Reed, KHS SLC student and most frequent of the seven different mentors.

Having older peers acknowledge the younger ones’ struggles, and let them know they’re not alone, makes them feel better about themselves. And that helps them pause and make different choices.

“The kids see me as a buddy that can help them with what’s going on with them,” said Jordan Barrett, another KHS SLC mentor. “It’s a really big deal.”

Big deal, indeed. When asked what it would have been like to have a mentor like them when they were in elementary school, Jordan said it would have helped them through a lot. And for Nathaniel, “It would have changed everything.”

Kelsey Rodman, KHS SLC Teacher, started this program last year and couldn’t be happier with it. Not only is it helping the elementary students, but she also sees behavioral improvement in the high school mentors after they’ve had some time with the kids at Wallace. “The best part is when you hear them saying ‘I’m making good choices because I want to.’”

We Are Kelso: SEL Team builds strong system of supports

Every school day at 3:00 pm you can find the five-person Social Emotional Learning (SEL) team sitting around a table debriefing about the day. This small, but mighty, group is responsible for implementing processes that are changing how teaching and learning happens in our schools.

Starting their work just last summer, they’ve delivered trainings and presentations, vetted curricula, and done a lot of foundational work.

The team will be the first to say they’re just getting started. “There’s so much more to do,” adds Jake Alabiso, District SEL Coordinator. An instrumental architect in this process from the beginning, he affirms this isn’t about quick fixes. “This is about building a really strong system of supports.”

As part of those supports, the team has put dedicated spaces called Social Emotional Centers in each elementary school. There, students can get structured support or just have a place to quietly regulate. Also at every elementary school are teams for implementing positive behavior intervention supports in three tiers.

Although the programs and intentional focus on SEL is new, the effort is paying off.

“Teachers and principals are all telling us it’s working, and the early data backs that up,” said Don Iverson, Director of Student Services. “We’re seeing a 25% reduction in suspensions from this time last year across the district, and in-school suspensions are down by 7%.”

The team will roll out this great work to secondary schools next school year.


Kelso’s SEL Team:

  • Don Iverson, Director of Student Services
  • Jake Alabiso, District SEL Coordinator
  • Bob Johanson, District SEL Coach
  • Shawnda Macie, SEL Technician
  • Colleen Brand, SEL Technician

One-year bond update

construction timeline

At this time last year, Kelso citizens overwhelmingly voted to approve a construction bond and educational levy to improve the learning experience for our students.  We are so thankful for the support and generosity of our community, and continue to work diligently to be good stewards of the funds allocated for public education ($98.6 million bond plus $59.4 million in state match funds for a total of $158 million).

After considerable input from the community, we ran the bond based on six priorities that rose to the top: safety and security, elementary school replacements, school modernization, adding and updating classrooms, traffic and parking, and updating athletic facilities. Since passing the bond and levy on February 13, 2018, we haven’t stopped working to make these priorities a reality for our students, staff and families. One year later, here are a few facts and figures about some of the 100 construction-related projects planned. Visit for frequent updates.

Safety & Security

  • 6 – systems slated to be updated/added to improve safety and security across the district (door access control, video surveillance, exterior lighting, fencing, building design modifications, and communication systems)

School Replacements

  • 16 – stakeholder meetings determining educational specifications and major design elements for new elementary schools
  • 1,038 – hours district staff put in outside of the work day on planning and design in 2018/19
  • 7 – number of public events inviting community feedback
  • 2 – new elementary schools being built

School Modernizations

  • $45 million – total cost for school modernization projects, which include upgrades to plumbing, heating, ventilation, cooling, roofs, windows, and siding.
  • 4 – schools getting modernized (Butler Acres, Carrolls, Huntington and Rose Valley)

Updating Classrooms/Facilities

  • 5 Career Technical Education classrooms being updated this summer
  • 8 welding stations being added at KHS
  • 6 culinary kitchens at KHS to be upgraded
  • 1 – new KHS gym floor, bleachers and handrails

Traffic & Parking

  • 11 – properties purchased to improve traffic flow around Wallace and Butler Acres elementary schools

Athletic Facilities

  • 550,000 – pounds of sand and rubber infill between the fibers of the new synthetic turf at Schroeder Field
  • 8-25-18 – date of first game played on new turf at Schroeder Field
  • 40 – year-old elevator will be replaced
  • 3 – practice fields (at Kelso High, Coweeman, & Huntington) scheduled for improvements
  • 1 – additional gym at Huntington


For a printable pdf of this information, click here.

We Are Kelso: The Executive Construction Steering Team takes on our biggest projects

With school replacements making up the lion’s share of the budget for our bond projects ($92.9 million of the $158 million total), it’s no surprise that the majority of the work done so far has been focused on building new elementary schools. Projects of this scale require a robust team with varying strengths and areas of expertise.

Enter our school construction team, made up of 12 professionals from four organizations: Kelso School District, Construction Services Group (CSG) from ESD 112, Integrus Architecture, and FORMA Construction Company. Experts from each organization have been working diligently on improving our facilities, some for over two years now.

“We really began working with CSG to determine the state of our facilities and see where the greatest needs were in January 2017,” said Scott Westlund, Chief Financial Officer for the district. CSG members have been instrumental in managing the many moving parts of our bond projects, including helping to find architects and contractors.

Integrus was interviewed and selected through a competitive process as the architectural firm to design the new schools. They facilitated stakeholder committee meetings for months to determine the educational specifications needed for our schools and get input on design elements.

Then, through a highly competitive process, FORMA was selected as our General Contractor/Construction Manager (GCCM) to build the schools. Bringing them in for industry expertise just before final design schematics were drawn helps to minimize change orders down the road and get sub-contractors secured early, both of which assist in keeping construction costs down.

Even then, unanticipated conditions caused a cost overrun of roughly $14 million for the school replacement projects. The schematic design estimating process revealed the unprecedented rise of labor and materials costs, and geotechnical engineering results at both the Wallace and Lexington sites indicated soil and ground conditions that require deep, robust soil improvements to ensure the foundation systems meet today’s building standards for public spaces.

The team came together and vetted multiple options to bring the total cost back within budget. After several open houses and a public hearing to gather community input, the school board approved a solution – combining two of the three new elementary schools into one larger school at the Lexington site in order to meet all the priorities of our bond measure.

“Even with a few cost challenges, it’s been an exciting adventure. We will continue to make the learning environment for Kelso students engaging, state-of-the-art, and safe,” said Superintendent Mary Beth Tack. “With our talented and dedicated team, we’re looking forward to great things for the Kelso students, staff, and community.”


Executive Construction Steering Team Members

Kelso School District Members
Mary Beth Tack, Superintendent
Scott Westlund, Chief Financial Officer
Gary Schimmel, Facilities Director
Leah Moore, Kelso School Board

CSG Members
Philip Iverson, Project Manager
Richard Skreen, Project Manager

Integrus Members
Amy Vanderhorst, Senior Project Manager
Matt Taylor, Project Manager

FORMA Members
Mike Rogers, Senior Project Manager
Kody Helms, Project Manager