The classroom was quiet as representatives of Premier America Credit Union and the Alliance for the Arts walked through the door Monday morning. Thirty faces looked up expectantly. Somebody whispered "What's happening?"
"Hello hello hello!" says Siobhain Hill, executive director of the Alliance for the Arts. A dozen faces grin and the students respond "Hello" in unison. This is a familiar pattern in an elementary school, and Hill, as a former elementary school principal, gets right into the swing of things.
"I heard that there's a really amazing class of students around here... can you help me find them?" Hill walks around the room, making contact with each student, sitting at their tables, and drawing every eye. The next three minutes are filled with call and response, clapping, singing, and, of course, the gift of a brand new book.
These are 5th graders at some of the most impacted schools in Ventura County. At Art Haycox Elementary, over 800 of the 1005 students are learning English as a second language. Students at Rio Del Mar have books on their desks barely held together with library tape and gumption.
The Alliance for the Arts brings students from Title 1 schools to professional performances at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. Over 1500 students will get to see Cabrillo Music Theatre's produciton of Mary Poppins on Wednesday as part of the organization's Kids and the Arts Program. This year, they are seeking to augment the arts program with greater Common Core support, like providing much-needed texts for literature units.
Kelly Karren is a wealth advisor with Premier America, one of the sponsoring partners for the book delivery this week. "All these administrators are very invested in giving these children the best opportunities for their education. It is really gratifying to be a part of that."
Karren walks around the classroom giving a wrapped book to each student. The grins are infectious and a young man from Mr. Castillo's class at Rio Plaza Elementary sums up the day perfectly, "Isn't it early for Christmas?"