Soboba Foundation sparks creativity

Art teacher Laura Ryan, left, explains the next step of the painting process to students who participate in the Count on Art program at West Valley High School in Hemet. Valley News/Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians photo

West Valley High School in Hemet has been able to provide fine arts classes for its special education students thanks to a grant from the Soboba Foundation. Art is offered every other week, and music has become a weekly class. Overseen by the Exceeding Everyone’s Expectations campus club, the program of Count on Art began about five years ago.

The Soboba Foundation, a nonprofit arm of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians, continues to fund the program each year and those involved couldn’t be happier. Artist Laura Ryan and musician Billy Tsounis love what they teach and love learning from the students.

“I adore the kids; to see them succeed in a project is so rewarding,” Ryan said, who has been a member of the Hemet Valley Art Association for about 15 years. “They are very creative and often their ideas are brilliant. I give careful thought to what I bring to them. I want them to be a little challenged by the work but to also have a good opportunity to be successful in the project.”

Tsounis has been teaching music at the school for about five years. He spends the first half of class time teaching basic rhythm fundamentals and the other half students get to sing and dance to their favorite songs via a karaoke machine.

“What I like best about teaching these classes is the enthusiasm of the students and their random and uninhibited approach to creativity and performing, which is actually the root of it all in most forms of music and art,” he said.

Lead teacher Vanessa Hagaman said the Count on Art program provides specialized arts instruction to students in her functional skills classroom that is not funded by the school district. Along with the voluntary art and music classes, students can also take cooking classes.

“We wouldn’t be able to do all this without Soboba’s help,” Hagaman said, who is teaching for her fifth year at West Valley. “I enjoy the fact the students can give and take during these lessons, and I love watching them accomplish something new.”

Instructional aides Jody Cusworth and Louise Wood have noticed an increase in the confidence level of the students as a result of the art, music and cooking classes being added.

Ryan said she always tells her budding artists that there are no mistakes in art – only opportunities to create something different. Tsounis is grateful for the opportunity to witness each student’s unique personality and possibly uplift their mood through music.