Thursday, April 26, 2012

Why We Need School-based Art Teachers

by Stephanie Kulke

District 65 has eliminated the positions of five art and music teachers in our school system including Dawes current art teacher.  This means that instead of a school-based teacher, the class load will be taught by two or more visiting art teachers.  A fractured art teacher is not equal to a whole.  Can you imagine a fractured homeroom teacher?  A fractured principal?

Just as a substitute teacher does not have the relationship and knowledge of each student's abilities and needs, how can we reasonably expect continuity of curriculum, personalized/differentiated instruction and a strong parent-teacher relationship when multiple teachers are trying to fill the gap of a school-based teacher?

This decision to eliminate art teachers for each individual school, signals that our school board considers arts education a lower priority than other coursework. I don't share this view for several reasons.

My 3rd grade daughter practically skips to school Monday mornings at 8:00 a.m. because she is excited attend before school choir practice with her music teacher. For my child art is the magnet that attracts her to school each day.

There are many studies that cite the role of arts in brain development, and data on how arts education helps narrow the academic achievement gap.  There is also research that shows the arts are a future job growth sector and that innovation and creativity are a key to creating jobs in the new economy.  I agree with those points, but my pitch for prioritizing arts education in grades K through 8 is based on my personal observations as a parent in the school district these past four years.

What I have observed in my daughter and her peers, is that the enthusiasm from those ecstatic 45 minutes spent in art and music class, spills over into the rest of the school day.  Like most kids, she has her strengths and weaknesses academically. The positive experiences she has singing, creating, and performing alongside her classmates, offset my child's struggles to improve her spelling, penmanship and memory retention of addition and multiplication facts.  The positive and constructive time spent in art class also strengthens the experience of working with her peers on general education lessons in her homeroom.

One of the fantastic things about arts education is there is no judgment or grade for having the “correct” answer.  Yes, the students learn technique, art history and music theory, but there is no one prescribed way of expressing themselves artistically.  This freedom of expression is crucial to the emotional and intellectual development of our children during these elementary and middle school years.  Peer pressure to fit in with the popular group, and academic pressures to get good test scores and grades, can trigger low self-esteem, and dampen their enthusiasm for learning.

Art and music classes give my child time to practice her individual strengths and explore her ideas.  I believe this instills self-confidence and belief in herself which helps her weather the ups and downs of social and academic life at school.

The student art projects and performances created under the instruction of their talented art and music teachers are the heart and soul of our school.  The experience of walking down the halls and seeing the paintings of famous African Americans that inspire our students during black history month, and the magnificent variety art objects that adorn the building give warmth and life to what would otherwise be drab, institutional walls. The spring and winter concerts put together by our music teacher in collaboration with the art teacher and art club are outstanding.  Each child gets a chance to shine and be special, whether they are chosen to recite a poem, create a scenic element, play an instrument or ride a skateboard across the stage in character as part of a musical number.  One of my favorite moments is when the student performers, and art club students come out on stage to take a bow together.  The look of pride on their faces is unforgettable.

The art teacher is an important member of our school community.  All of our the children in our district deserve opportunity to have a school-based art teacher, not just Dawes, but here are some specific reasons why a full-time art teacher is important to Dawes:

·      Our Title One status means that more than ½ our students are from low-income households, and after school art programs may be inaccessible due to cost.
·      Our current art teacher is bilingual which is a great asset in our school with a large Spanish-speaking population.
·      Arts participation has shown to be key in closing the achievement gap between for high-risk children resulting in higher graduation rate, better grades and job opportunities and greater civic engagement.
·      Dawes has outstanding art and interdisciplinary programs such as Art Club, the winter and spring concert, and the enrichment units on weather, insects, Native American performances.  How can we maintain these before and after school arts activities when no one teacher feels they have a stake in the life of the school?

These specials teachers help reach and teach the whole child. The loss of a dedicated school-based art teacher will negatively impact the relationship of our art teacher to our students and school community, compromising the overall educational experience of our children. 

The school board needs to hear from more of us who value art instruction that cutting teachers is not the answer to providing a quality education and balancing the budget. 

Submitted April 21, 2012

Stephanie Kulke's daughter is a 3rd grader at Dawes Elementary. Known in Evanston for her work on Evanston150, Stephanie's marketing and communications work has included work for Rempy Bumppo Theatre Company, Royal George Theatre, Museum of Contemporary Art, Printer's Row Book Fair, Chicago Park District's Theatre on the Lake, Art Chicago, The Chicago International Film Festival, Dance Chicago, and the long-running The Vagina Monologues at the Apollo Theater.

Stephanie is reachable on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and online.

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