9-year-old wages effort to save Friday Harbor school arts program

Friday Harbor third-grader Kelly Payne ... campaigning to save school arts program.  - Julia Vouri
Friday Harbor third-grader Kelly Payne ... campaigning to save school arts program.
— image credit: Julia Vouri

When nine-year-old Kelly Payne heard that the arts program at Friday Harbor Elementary School was going to be cut, she didn’t waste any time.

Within two days, she had written a letter explaining why the program should be saved, and got it signed by her classmates and Principal Gary Pflueger. She next organized a booth selling lemonade, cupcakes and cookies at the school carnival on May 31, and rallied her classmates to the tune of $123 and more than 40 signatures on a petition to save the arts.

“I’m doing this because my friends and I don’t want to see this program disappear,” Kelly said. “We love art — it’s the most fun thing to do in school.”

Kelly has been inspired by her grandmother, who paints with watercolors, acrylics and oils.

“She’s been a role model for Kelly, and has passed along her passion for making art,” said her stepmother, Jennifer Payne. “Drawing, coloring and painting are Kelly’s favorite things to do.”

When the program was cut, Kelly saw a need and took the initiative to do it, said her third-grade teacher Darlene Clark.

“She’s a very artistic, creative young lady, and she’s also a go-getter who saw a need and took the initiative to do it,” she said. “She asked me Monday how much an art teacher costs. I wish it were that easy.”

It won’t be. Eliminating the visual arts program was just one part of the $1 million reduction made in the San Juan Island School District’s budget for the 2009-10 school year. Declining enrollment and Washington state’s underfunding of basic education made restructuring and reducing programs necessary to develop a balanced budget.

Despite Kelly’s efforts, the program may be beyond saving, Pflueger said. The art program was not included in a list of 2009-10 funding needs submitted by the district for the elementary school.

“It’s very unfortunate that we have to cut such a successful program, but it was that or another teacher and a combination class,” Pflueger said. “Art is a critical part of an elementary school program, but with such a dramatic budget cut, something’s got to give.”

That something was made easier by the retirement this June of art instructor Carole Sjoholm. With all of the other needs to be served, it was expedient to drop the program by not replacing her, Pflueger said.

Art instruction won’t disappear altogether. It will still be part of the regular curriculum, and Sjoholm is leaving behind lesson plans that can be accessed by teachers. All art supplies will remain, although the program will now be offered as “art on a cart,” because the art classroom will be renovated to accommodate the new sixth graders.

The PTA is also looking at ways to assist in an art program through volunteer sources for kindergarten through second grades, when specialized classes are particularly valuable. But a full-fledged volunteer instruction program for all grades would be hard to build into curriculums because of scheduling challenges, Pflueger said.

Because of Kelly’s efforts, other students — including her brother and his classmates — have been putting “Save the arts” posters up around the school, which have been gathering signatures. But thus far, no parents have come forward in response to her crusade with a fresh solution.

In the meantime, Kelly continues to collect signatures, and asks that people in the community join her cause.

“This has been a wonderful program,” Pflueger said. “It’s sad to see it go.”

You can help restore school programs
King’s Market has challenged the community to match a gift of $50,000 by July 1 in order to support essential school programs next year, and islanders are stepping up to meet the challenge.

A list of opportunities for community support of instructional programs and curriculum purchases for the 2009-10 school year is posted on the district’s Web site.

Tax-deductable donations can be made through the San Juan Public Schools Foundation, P.O. Box 1452, Friday Harbor 98250; through a secure Web site,; or by phone, 370-7925.

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