Virtues of Excellence Art Program

“Teaching values, character development, ethics, and helping students develop a moral identity have fallen with regard to debate over what schools should teach. The founders of this country would likely be horrified by the loss of this goal, as they all cite character development as the way to create an educated and virtuous citizenry.”

- Jessica Lahey wrote in The Atlantic


For over a half of a century, there has been an ongoing debate over the effects of violent television images on the behavior of impressionable youth. In the meantime, there has been a dramatic increase in media violence, enhanced by extremely realistic and gory video games. Beginning in the early 1960’s with Dr. Albert Bandura’s landmark studies at Stanford University, there is now overwhelming evidence that supports the fact that there is a very real connection between media violence and negative child behavior. Top medical journals have joined in to express their deep concerns. Indeed, in 2005, The Lancet published a comprehensive review of this subject. The bottom line: “The weight of the studies supports the position that exposure to media violence leads to aggression, desensitization toward violence and lack of sympathy for victims of violence, particularly in children”. When you also consider the recent studies which are reporting the adverse effects of social media, we can only conclude that this is, indeed, a tough time to be a kid. It is only through the development of a strong moral identity that we acquire the navigation skills to maintain a positive and productive direction throughout the course our lives.


Values are the foundation for building trust…the key to happiness in personal relationships and the collective resource that is fundamental to the success of our nation. In his recent book, Community Before Self, Malin Burnham reveals the Seven Virtues of Excellence, which are the result of lessons learned and followed throughout his amazing career. These virtues provide a roadmap for living a life of purpose and meaning, which positively impact our individual quality of life, while serving to improve our schools, neighborhoods and communities. From the value of “planning and commitment” to the indispensable virtues of “teamwork and fair play”, Malin’s list is remarkably timely for those caring to learn the skills which are required to succeed in our complex and rapidly accelerating society.

Dan Evers with Malin Burnham and Fernando Hernandez, Principal at Perkins Elementary School in Barrio Logan, San Diego. Perkins was the first Rainforest Art Program, which was sponsored by the Burnham Foundation eleven years ago, and has continued every year since.


Last September, the Burnham Foundation announced that it would be working with San Diego Unified School District and the Rainforest Art Project to develop a completely original approach to teaching virtues in our public schools. As you can imagine, these are subjects, which may appear remote and intangible to the average sixth grader. The Burnham-Rainforest approach is to combine challenging and appropriate art projects for these virtues, so that each one acquires clarity through its own unique shape, color, texture, shading and perspective. Here are a couple of examples:


In Lesson 2: Commitment – Take Responsibility, students learn that small improvements can make big results. For the art lesson, they will create a fully-rendered still life drawing, learning techniques of value and shading, and how to make their drawing interesting.


In lesson 4: Dedication – Never Give Up, students will learn about color and mood by creating two similar drawings, one in warm colors and the second in cool colors. They will learn to find positive and negative, and how small details can change the whole picture.


Students working on the Virtues of Excellence mosaic, the most complex Rainforest Art Project panorama ever.


The Virtues of Excellence Art Program will be comprised of eight separate lessons, each one taking between 1-1 ½ hours over a period of eight weeks, and are designed for grade levels six thru eight. Students will be guided through every step by professional artists on high-quality video, with beautiful visuals. All of the necessary art supplies, along with detailed workbooks will make this program exceptionally teacher and student-friendly.

Marybeth Burnham from the Burnham Foundation and Dan Evers with the Rainforest Art Project discussing the new Virtues of Excellence Art Program. Marybeth studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, and is a professional designer and strong advocate for art in public schools.


Over 90 percent of Americans believe that values should be taught in our classrooms, according to a recently released Gallup Poll. Interestingly, this is similar to the percentage of people who want art in our schools on a regular basis. By combining these equally vital subjects we dilute neither. Instead, we create a dynamic synergy, which adds impact and substance to disciplines that are, without question, absolutely vital to the future of our kids and our country.


The Virtues of Excellence art program will become available to schools within the Imperial Valley in late March, 2018.

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