By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer
A bank foundation will spend $168,000 to promote kindergarten readiness for low-income Summit County preschoolers through art, music and drama.
The PNC Foundation announced the grant Wednesday at the Akron Art Museum, which will receive $150,000 to bring the arts into preschool classrooms and preschoolers to the museum.
Included in that three-year grant is funding for the Tuesday Musical Association to stage four performances for preschoolers at the museum.
A separate $18,000 grant will go to the Illusion Factory, an Akron-based interactive children's theater, to bring a play and workshops that exercise children's imagination to preschool classrooms.
Those preschoolers are in Head Start, the federal early childhood development program for low-income families.
Akron Summit Community Action, the local Head Start operator, serves 1,600 families at 12 Head Start centers in Summit County.
Head Start takes children ages 3 to 5.
Akron Summit Community Action also provides Early Head Start, a program for expectant mothers and children up to age 3. The Early Head Start program is completing an expansion thanks to a $1 million federal stimulus grant that has boosted its enrollment from 40 to 116 children.
The Akron Art Museum will use its grant to revive its MiniMasters, a program for area preschoolers that had been shelved for several years because of a lack of funding.
''Our program starts with designing, by our staff, a preschool arts curriculum that fulfills the standards both of national Head Start programs and the state of Ohio,'' said Mitchell Kahan, the museum's director. ''Then we train preschool teachers with this curriculum, giving them the confidence and tools to use the visual arts in the classroom.
''Then we send museum staff into the classrooms for additional art activities, and finally we bring the children and their families here to the museum for art activities along with music and theater.''
The Tuesday Musical Association already has performed one of four concerts at the museum geared toward preschoolers, which will include the ballet Peter and the Wolf and the opera Green Eggs and Ham.
''We've never had such a succinct opportunity to work with preschool children,'' said Barbara Feld, the association's executive director. ''Wherever you find creativity, wherever you find beauty and art, it has to start at one moment. And we have an opportunity to enhance that moment.''
The Illusion Factory will treat preschoolers to interactive performances of The Hat, by Brian Way, which involves children in a story about a strange hat that can never be removed, only replaced by another hat.
''By engaging the children in a series of imaginative, creative drama exercises about the color of each hat, each one is able to be removed and the action of the play continues to its happy ending, but only through the help of the children,'' said Illusion Factory founder Barbara Ballance.
Malcolm Costa, executive director of Community Action, credited PNC Financial Services which funds the foundation for enabling this first-time collaboration between Akron's cultural institutions and Community Action in the interests of poor children.
PNC Financial Services Group Inc. of Pittsburgh acquired National City Corp. of Cleveland at the end of 2008. The grants in Akron are part of the foundation's Grow Up Great program, a 10-year, $100 million effort to improve early childhood education in the PNC coverage area from the East Coast to St. Louis and Chicago.
Since the acquisition of National City, PNC has established similar arts education programs in Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo, Cincinnati and Dayton.
The Akron grant includes the distribution of 1,700 newly released bilingual math activity kits created by the Sesame Workshop that have a DVD with Sesame Street characters. The kits also are free at all PNC bank branches.
PNC pays its employees for up to 40 hours of volunteer work each year with approved programs.
Kevin Thompson, the Akron regional president for PNC, said the bank employs about 650 people locally, and like him, they're eager to volunteer in Head Start classrooms.
''The thing that I appreciate more than anything else more than the money is the commitment for the employees,'' Costa told Thompson after the news conference. ''That is the critical piece of this, not just money.''