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South Salt Lake • It was the end of the school day — a normally fidgety, restless time for many elementary school students.

But a classroom of fifth-graders at Lincoln Elementary in the Granite School District worked diligently on self-portraits Tuesday afternoon. They listened closely as art teacher Katie Cook-Zamora described how to draw facial features and how their drawings connected to the book they were reading.

"It's enhancing and enriching what they're learning in class," Cook-Zamora said of the art lesson.

More elementary school students across Utah will experience similar lessons this school year, but possibly less frequently, because of a dramatic cut in funding to the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program. The program's specialists are now teaching visual art, dance, theater and music in 75 Utah elementary schools compared to 57 schools served during last school year. The program has expanded its reach by splitting teachers' time between two schools each. That means more kids are getting art instruction with the specialists, but, in many cases, half as often.

The program works by paying for arts specialists to teach alongside classroom teachers and integrate art with other subjects — a model developed by Art Works for Kids and Beverley Taylor Sorenson, a former teacher, pianist and wife of the late biotechnology pioneer James LeVoy Sorenson.

Art Works for Kids made the decision to split teachers' time after realizing the program was not going to be fully funded this year, said Lisa Cluff, executive director of the organization. She said program leaders wanted to figure out a way to keep it strong rather than cut it in half.

The program also hopes to now spend more time training regular teachers how to incorporate art into their lessons.

Program leaders had asked lawmakers for $4 million to continue the program this school year but ended up with $2 million in state funding. Cluff said she was told lawmakers were concerned that the program wasn't reaching enough kids for its cost and that the cost per student was too high.

Now program leaders are hoping lawmakers will see the changes they've made and give the program $4 million for next school year, so it can expand to 130 schools.

"The art is something that makes them interested and do better in school," said Sorenson, who visited Cook-Zamora's class Tuesday. "It makes a difference."

The Utah Education Policy Center at the University of Utah is wrapping up an evaluation of the program's effects during its first four years. Data from its first three years show promising results.

The center found a positive, statistically significant relationship between program implementation and scores on state language arts, science and math tests.

The program has only been at Lincoln for a few weeks now, but fifth-grade teacher Sonya Sampson is hopeful it will help her students, too. She said in the 12 years she's taught at Lincoln, the school has never had an art teacher before now.

Sampson's students now see Cook-Zamora every other week. On Tuesday, Sampson walked around her classroom, making sure students were on-track as Cook-Zamora led the drawing lesson and discussions about memories and heritage — topics Sampson is working on with her students outside of the art class.

"They're doing art," Sampson said, "but they're reading. They're thinking."

On Tuesday, Sampson's students intently studied their faces in hand-held mirrors, drawing what they saw. Several students said the art makes them think more about the book they're reading.

"I really like art, and there's a lot of details in this art class," said Carrice Nielson, 10. "You get to show the details from the book."

Cluff said part of the reason the program has been able to expand this year is also because schools are contributing more toward it. But Cluff said schools may not be able to continue doing that indefinitely.

"It's a place where ... any students can find success," Cluff said, "and that's what's so wonderful about the program."

Twitter: @lschencker

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