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Fourth-grade teacher Sandra Kushner said visits to her class by a Le Roy storyteller are like "a breath of fresh air."

Storyteller Leah Ruekberg has come to Donald F. Lockwood Elementary School in the Letchworth Central School District once a week for five weeks as part of the Arts-in-Education program.

"The residency provides an opportunity to provide emphasis in creative ways for speaking, listening and ultimately writing," Kushner said. "It benefits children of all ability levels, especially those with difficulty in writing. This takes stress away from them."

Organizers hope to further spread the program through Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties during the 2001-02 school year. An estimated 75 percent of the Arts-in-Education projects are taking place in Livingston County during the 2000-01 school year.

Educators praise the program for allowing students of all abilities to demonstrate their talents in the classroom.

"Our educational system focuses on the written product as the sole measure of language development, and we are told to stop talking and work on language," Ruekberg said in a statement.

Ruekberg is getting students to share and write about personal stories as a way to promote student expression.

"Talking and listening are still our most basic tools of language development, and our personal experiences provide the basic building blocks for our creativity," Ruekberg said.

There are at least 10 classrooms participating in the program this year. The New York State Council on the Arts provides funding for the program.

Walter Pond, executive director of the Arts Council for Wyoming County, said organizers want to double the number of projects funded.

"It increases exposure to the arts in schools without taking from arts instruction there," Pond said. "We don't want to take away from their budgets."

The Genesee Valley Council for the Arts distributed about $10,000 in state funds last year to art education efforts in Livingston, Wyoming, Genesee and Orleans counties.

Additional funding from the state will be known by May. Pond said about twice as much money is being sought by the area arts councils for the 2001-2002 school year.

A panel of representatives from the councils will then review proposals from educators for funding.

Pond said it is uncertain how many additional projects will be funded.

"At this point, our goal is to increase participation, but we don't have a target number we want to establish," Pond said.

Pond said applications from teachers to join the program are already being solicited. For information, residents can call 237-3517.

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