Education

Arts Education Is More Than Enrichment

Studies show that a commitment to the arts is a commitment to our future, improving cognitive strength and creativity

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In June, Americans for the Arts released the results of a survey on Americans’ beliefs about the arts. The findings were significant: Over 70 percent of those surveyed said that the arts were a positive part of their lives and that arts institutions add value to the community. Nine out of ten Americans agreed that arts should be taught to students in grades K–12.

Research supports this statement. Students who have access to the arts are more creative thinkers, display higher confidence and problem-solving skills, and have a stronger ability to focus and persevere on difficult tasks. Participation in the arts also fosters collaboration and dedication, all qualities that employers are looking for in new hires.

Arts education can impact cognitive development as well. Early exposure to music is correlated with phonological awareness, the ability to distinguish between sounds that is a crucial skill in reading development. Children who practice a specific art form – whether it is a musical instrument, drawing or acting – demonstrate increased attention skills and long-term memory.

For low-income students in particular, those who participate in arts education are three times more likely to receive an award for school attendance and four times more likely to have high academic achievement. A 2007 study conducted in Maryland found that in schools practicing arts integration, a model that uses art to teach primary content curriculum, the gap between low-income and minority students and their peers was narrowed by 14 percent in reading and 26 percent in math (over three years).

There is a visual arts teacher in every Providence public school. While they are all employed full time, many of those at the elementary level service two schools. For the 2017–18 academic year, three schools have joined Turnaround Arts, a program sponsored by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. DelSesto, Gilbert Stuart and Roger Williams middle schools will join 70 other schools in 17 states and Washington, DC, receiving intensive arts education resources and integration as a strategy to help close the opportunity gap by providing equitable access to the arts.

Each school will have a mentor artist: DelSesto has been paired with musician Ben Folds, Gilbert Stuart with Taboo of the music group the Black Eyed Peas, and Roger Williams with singer-songwriter Valerie June. They will provide students with motivational morning greetings, guidance in their artistic endeavors, annual visits to check in on progress, and special arts integration projects. In addition to these high-profile mentors, Turnaround Arts empowers struggling schools by supporting innovative arts, dance, theater and music programs, arts integration across subject areas, arts resources, and musical instruments.

A 2014 study led by Booz Allen Hamilton found that Turnaround Arts schools showed significant achievement gains over three years. The eight schools evaluated showed an average gain of 23 percent improvement in math proficiency and 13 percent improvement in reading proficiency. The President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities (PCAH) stated in 2010, “A greater investment in the arts is an effective way to equip today’s students with the skills they will need to succeed in the jobs of tomorrow… It is also an effective tool in school-wide reform and fixing some of our biggest educational challenges. It is not a flower, but a wrench.”

The high achieving independent schools on the East Side also demonstrate this strong commitment to the arts. The Wheeler School, Moses Brown School and Lincoln School all offer strong educational programs in the visual and performing arts, including “Arts Major” programs, choral and a cappella groups, orchestras and bands. The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards National Medalists included two East Side students: Abigail Klein, a seventh grader at Lincoln, and Theju Nimmagadda, a sophomore at Wheeler.

We know that funding for the arts is important to our schools and to our community. This is one of the reasons that, despite President Trump’s proposal to eliminate both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, Congress passed a budget bill that includes $150 million for each of the endowments, $2 million above the fiscal year 2016 level. We must continue to advocate for programs that strengthen our community and our future.

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RI Teacher Fest Makes Waves in Narragansett in August
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