HYDE PARK — Teacher Emily Forrest-Mattfield is out banging the drum for expanding the arts for her grade schoolers at Bret Harte Elementary.
“We’re really fortunate to have an arts curriculum, but obviously it can be enhanced, and there’s not money for things like field trips unless we find it,” Forrest-Mattfield said. “Visual arts is just not enough. There needs to be something else.”
After Forrest-Mattfield leaves her basement classroom in the school, 1556 E. 56th St., she goes home to put a toddler to bed and apply for grants to add music and dance to her programming.
“These opportunities are overflowing, it’s just a matter of finding them,” Forrest-Mattfield said.
Forrest-Mattfield has won an Oppenheimer Family Foundation grant to install music composition software on the school’s iPads. Parents were invited to the school to listen to the songs, admire band posters created by students and enjoy a performance by the band Magic Carpet.
“I feel like a lot of my kids are interested in music and have no outlet for that — we have nothing in the school,” Forrest-Mattfield said. “Now it’s an introduction, and they can see if they want to take it forward.”
Principal Shenethe Parks said Forrest-Mattfield is an asset as the school struggles to expand its arts curriculum as budgets shrink.
“She’s a phenomenal grant writer,” Parks said. “One of the key components we’re missing is music.”
Parks said Bret Harte is pushing for programming beyond the visual arts to get recognition from Chicago Public Schools next year as an arts-focused school.
Forrest-Mattfield also has won thousands of dollars in grants to expand the visual arts at the school.
In the last three years, she has won $1,500 for murals in the hallways. In the stairway next to Forrest-Mattfield’s classroom, students created a mosaic of Lake Michigan with help from researchers from the Shedd Aquarium.
“It’s not only educational, it helps with the aesthetics,” said Darryl Williams, chairman of the Local School Council. “She's exceptional.”
Forrest-Mattfield attends seminars on weekends on farming to be ready when the weather breaks and the school starts planting the garden she was able to get funded through a grant last year.
She said she applied for the grant after she asked her students to draw the inside of common vegetables as part of an art project, and many didn’t know where to start.
“Some of the kids had never eaten a green pepper before,” Forrest-Mattfield said.
Forrest-Mattfield said she brought in vegetables for her students to try as they practiced drawing, and many found they really liked some of the veggies.
She said she’s excited for her students to try growing the vegetables now that they’ve gotten a taste.
After the garden is going, Forrest-Mattfield said she’s going to pursue more funding for dance at the school.
“I’m lucky enough that I don’t have strict guidelines, so I can show my students the world around them from the classroom,” Forrest-Mattfield said.