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Peninsula woman's art nonprofit reaching schoolkids worldwide

Peninsula woman's art nonprofit reaching schoolkids worldwide
Peninsula woman's art nonprofit reaching schoolkids worldwide 03:38

A Peninsula woman whose art program is being used in 26 states is now seeing her curriculum distributed worldwide.

Judy Sleeth's story began four decades ago when she had a brush with a harsh reality.

"Even in well-to-do Menlo Park, there were no art teachers," Sleeth said.

So Sleeth agreed to teach an art lesson at the request of her daughter's kindergarten teacher.

"You look at art and understand things, so to not have that, or music, or any of those things that really touch the individual, that really worried me," said Sleeth.

Teachers kept inviting her in, so she kept teaching, and eventually started Art in Action in 1982. The Redwood City nonprofit creates art curriculum for kindergarten through eighth grade.

Judy Sleeth observes a young artist. CBS

Today, Art in Action serves 75,000 students in more than 250 schools. Its online curriculum has expanded its reach worldwide, to New Zealand, Brazil and Vietnam.

At Hatch Elementary in Half Moon Bay, parent volunteer Danielle Reimche leads the lesson and hands-on project.

"The kids need art. It's a form of therapy," Reimche said. "I deal with a lot of personalities. Some will get more frustrated. But we can bring them back to the art and re-group and it's a really good tool."

The campus has offered Art in Action classes for ten years. The Cabrillo Unified School District funds the program for 1,100 students districtwide.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Leticia Bhatia says the art lessons are a game changer where nearly half the district's students are low-income.

"Art is a language people of every single community, students from different cultural backgrounds can see," Bhatia said. "It can definitely level the playing field."

In fact, when Sleeth retired as Art in Action's executive director she created its scholarship program in 2016. So far, the program has funded Art in Action in 40 schools in 19 states that cannot otherwise afford the $27 per student, per year, for curriculum and supplies.

For Sleeth, the joy is watching students like Elin Holland find their creative voice, as she and her fellow third-graders recently painted their own versions of Van Gogh's Starry Night.

"I also, like Van Gogh, I like to express myself with my art," said Holland. "It makes me feel good, happy."

"Art is from the heart. It really is what ties a child to their education in general," Sleeth said.

So for creating Art in Action to bring art into the classroom, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Judy Sleeth.

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