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Get art smarts

Some schools have cut arts education. Here's how to fill the gap.

Arts education offers a good news/bad news story. There is no question that there are fewer visual arts, dance, music, and theater arts classes taught in schools today. In some schools, arts teachers have been eliminated altogether.

Though some believe that arts courses are less important than STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), experts insist there is a strong correlation between the two. “We know that working artists and scientists are using exactly the same part of the brain,” points out Karen Chigounis, director of arts education for the Perkins Center for the Arts in Collingswood and Moorestown, NJ.

In addition, students preparing for jobs within many fields, including technology, design, production, and advertising, must have a foundation in the arts.

Current state of the arts

“In Pennsylvania, we have reports of districts that are eliminating the arts at various levels in the K-12 curriculum, removing the middle-level classes or eliminating the certified arts teacher at the elementary K-6 levels,” says Diane Wilkin, secondary division director of the Pennsylvania Art Education Association. “With fewer certified arts educators, there are larger class sizes, and ultimately less access to the arts for all students.”

By contrast, New Jersey core curriculum standards require that all K-12 students must have regular sequential arts instruction in dance, music, theater and the visual arts.

Delaware mandates instruction in visual and performing arts. “Every child in grades 1 through 6 must be enrolled in visual and performing arts every year,” says Debora Hansen, an education associate for visual and performing arts at the Delaware Department of Education. “There are also programs in every middle and high school for students to use as an elective and as the basis of career pathways that would include the arts.”

What parents can do

Home Art Websites

Crayola — This site has a special "I'm a Parent, I'm a Kid or I'm a Teacher" sections.

Deep Space Sparkle — This for-profit personal site offers art lessons for kids, but Patty Palmer has lots of ideas and information that are free, and good visuals.

Disney Family Fun Crafts Section — Find easy art and craft ideas for kids of all ages. Check out the music crafts, paper crafts, and fun seasonal holiday crafts too.

Kinder Art — Activities for parents, homeschoolers and other educators to enrich children's artistic lives at home.

If you believe your child would benefit from additional arts education, you can contact one of the many local arts centers, such as The Center for Creative Arts in Woodlyn, DE, which offers private music lessons, children’s theater, after-school and Saturday morning classes and art clubs. Also, many private music, dance, acting and creative arts providers offer their services.

Other opportunities include visiting a concert, theater production or other performances; arts festivals and activities; or a museum.

Within your school, consider offering resources, including time, supplies and financial donations, which can be especially helpful where budget cuts have led to larger class sizes.

“Pay attention to policy issues and actively correspond with and call your local state representatives and senators,” suggests Wilkin. “Our elected officials need to be able to put a face on the personal impacts of their policy and budgetary decisions.”

Parents can also initiate arts days or festivals in schools. Community artists who share their expertise can provide insights and inspiration to students.

What the future holds 

Wilkins points out that the national common core standards, due to take affect by 2014, include the arts. “We do have some educators that are working on making an alignment with that curriculum,” she says. “We’re at one end of the pendulum and I do feel it’s going to swing back.”

Terri Akman is a contributing writer to MetroKids.

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