Meet Diana Rios (she/her), visual arts teacher at 99th Street Elementary. She is the only full-time arts teacher in an elementary school in the LA Unified School District. We spoke with her recently about her passion and love for the arts and what it means to her to be the only fully-staffed arts teacher at an LA Unified school.

Diana started her education career after getting her multiple-subject credential with a focus on arts integration from California State University, Fullerton. She worked at Martin Luther King School of the Arts in Monterey for two years and later, at a charter school for three years before joining 99th Street Elementary School this school year. By June, Diana will have earned her supplementary arts authorization, which will be added to her multiple subject credential. 

Diana was inspired to pursue arts education because her parents’ education lacked arts integration during their time in school. It’s always piqued her interest, and she wanted to ensure her students also had opportunities to gain an interest in the arts. She shared her love of teaching arts at 99th Street because many students in high-need communities don’t usually have exposure to the arts outside of school. She noted that bringing arts to an elementary school full-time is special and engages students outside the classroom.  

Being the only full-time elementary arts teacher in the school district presents unique challenges and opportunities. Diana said one of the main challenges is not having a partner teacher. Having an arts team comprised of arts teachers in different subjects like dance or music is something she’d like to see in the future and is preparing for it. Diana has been building an arts curriculum based on teaching standards for the school and future arts teachers. 

“I’ve always thought of arts as a really powerful way to connect the dots in curriculum,” she said. It allows students to experience different learning modalities, whether tactile or visual, she added. Diana wants to ensure that her lessons bridge learning opportunities.

This year, she developed a curriculum guided by K-6 visual arts standards. Through peer-to-peer teacher collaboration during professional development days, Diana contributes to conversations discussing the integration of art into their lessons. For example, she worked with a first-grade teacher on a science activity incorporating an arts element, and students worked on puppets that created shadows. She also worked with a kinder teacher on a CKLA unit where students learned about stories, vocabulary, and reading through pottery and sculptures. In a second-grade science class where students were learning about insects, Diana introduced art by having students develop a hexagonal background with insects. One of them made a honeycomb with bees. 

When asked what unique opportunities have arisen from her teaching, Diana said, “Getting to pave the way for new experiences for students.” She serves as a Cultural Arts Champion, along with Ms. Martha Celis at 99th Street, which is part of LAUSD’s Cultural Arts Passport program. It provides funding for arts experiences outside of school hours. They took students to the Santa Monica Playhouse for a theater camp during spring break, saw a fairytale show, and went to see the WIZ at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. 

Diana shared that one of her 5th-grade students, who is always engaged but quieter than most, wrote about their future and said they wanted to be an art teacher when they grew up. “It is an honor to be trusted with this role,” Diana noted. She teaches about four or five- classes daily, 23 blocks of time throughout the year, serving about 500 students in TK-6 grades. The feedback she has received from her peers is overwhelmingly positive. She said her peers feel having a consistent, full-time arts teacher is better because students get to build trust and get access to comprehensive arts education. She doesn’t take her responsibility lightly. 

Diana looks forward to seeing her students grow their art skills. Even in her first year, she has seen how students have developed and evolved their foundational skills, and as creative and expressive minds. “So, as they continue to progress with me, I feel encouraged that when they move into middle school they take arts courses and electives that allow them to express themselves creatively.”