Why Arts? A Learning Commitment to Our Young People

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balloons2I had an opportunity to spend time in Stephanie Helvin’s room recently at Stone-Robinson Elementary. Stephanie teaches art. Watching her second graders as they began work on creating line drawings of hot air balloons, I noted that she introduced them to science, math, and new vocabulary as she shared with them how to turn overlapping circles into dimensional drawings.

Why arts education? In a day and age when conversations about the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in pK-16 curricula and workforce preparation dominate education, what makes the arts still relevant? In many public schools across the United States, art room doors have closed, teachers have been let go, and art time has shifted to academic time.

Why then have we worked in Albemarle Schools to purposefully sustain a budget commitment to the arts despite current trends across the United States to slash arts from schools’ offerings?

As Kai Kight, Stanford graduate, says, “Innovation happens at intersections.” The capability to innovate directly affects our potential to ensure a thriving economy and culture across our communities. Arts education builds innovative thinking.

Our division has a critical commitment to educating young people well so they will be ready for their future as citizens, lifelong learners, and employers and employees. We believe this  comes from a well-rounded education to sustain learners’ creativity as well as to build their analytical skills across the curricula. Arts do both.

For example, a recent video shared with me by Albemarle High orchestra teacher Carrie Finnegan captured the neuroscience underpinnings of how playing a musical instrument benefits your brain and impacts both linguistic and mathematical functions:

We also understand that learning through arts will build deep cognitive learning in young students:

“The arts are not just expressive and affective, they are deeply cognitive. They develop essential thinking tools — pattern recognition and development; mental representations of what is observed or imagined; symbolic, allegorical and metaphorical representations; careful observation of the world; and abstraction from complexity.” (How the Arts Develop the Young Brain, Sousa)

Our fabulous arts teachers across the county’s schools understand the importance of their role to build this deep learning among children by keeping creativity alive as our learners move through school. Andrew Sherogan, Meriwether Lewis Elementary, and Molly Foster, Hollymead Elementary, are two of our visual arts teachers who routinely share that message in their blogs as they profile children engaging in our arts programs through project-based learning.

stem2We are not alone in our commitment to putting the A from arts into our contemporary focus on STEM.  We see the value in STEAM just as top universities do, including our own University of Virginia.

President Teresa Sullivan and actor Kevin Spacey described this  at the recent UVA President’s Speaker Series for the Arts:

“The University’s arts curriculum inspires creativity, innovation and discovery, while giving our students across all disciplines opportunities to integrate the arts into their U.Va. experience.” (Sullivan)

“We have this system that we call STEM, to teach sciences and technologies. Now there are a lot of schools who are adding an ‘A’ and calling it ‘STEAM.’ ‘A’ is for arts,” Spacey said. “I think it’s incredibly important because while math, science and technology are hugely important, if we leave behind a young person’s imagination or creativity, I think they won’t have as full a life.” (Spacey)

We realize in Albemarle that young people draw upon arts skills to help them design, build, engineer, produce as well as use math, science, engineering and technology competencies – whether creating an electric guitar or 3-D printing a prosthetic hand. The renowned WAHS robotics teams use a multitude of integrated skills essential to their design process. It’s not just their engineering minds at work. There’s a wealth of creativity embedded throughout their design decisions.

Kai Kight, graduate of of Stanford University, certainly understands the value of integrating the arts across the curricula while sustaining a passion for “arts for arts sake.” So do engineering professors. One said to me recently on a tour of our schools that a keen grasp .. of “spatial thinking helps our young people excel as they enter higher levels of math from trigonometry to advanced calculus.”

Arts are as important today as they have ever been in human history. Arts opportunities engage learners’ interests and inspire careers as well as a lifetime of personal enjoyment. It’s why I’m committed to arts education for all students we serve in our schools.

 

 

Great Schools: Good for Business

Albemarle County community members and local employers serve as outstanding partners to our schools. Our community provides support through local revenues essential to running our schools. Financial donations make additional resources available for students and volunteers provide thousands of hours to assist educators and the young people served by them. Our schools also give back a return on the investments made by community partners.

Community members including parents, senior citizens and business employers take great pride in the accomplishments of our young people, their teachers, and the schools. Supporting our local public schools is a top priority for those who live and work in this community. In the 2009 Community Survey sponsored by local government, newer residents ranked quality of schools as a key reason they chose to live in our community. Overall, quality education was ranked by residents as the #1 important service in Albemarle County.

UVA Head Football Coach Mike London, Hundred Black Men of Central Virginia Volunteer, Speaks to Young Men

Providing excellent schools isn’t just about serving our young people well.

It’s about serving our entire community well.


Tony Wayne, AHS physics teacher, receiving award at the Charlottesville Business Innovation Council Banquet

 

At an October work session, School Board members talked with representatives from local businesses about ways to strengthen partnerships to help forge an even stronger community.

Consider the following:

  • Well-established employers such as the University of Virginia and State Farm Insurance, as well as new employers such as the Defense Intelligence Agency, say emphatically that excellent schools are important to recruiting and keeping employees. Their employees want first-rate schools that allow children to thrive as learners. They value programs that provide opportunities for young people to excel in academics, arts, and sports as well as to become leaders and good citizens who provide service to their community.
Patrick Bond MoHS Eagle Scout led a project to build an amphitheater at Walton Middle
  • The directors of the Chamber of Commerce and the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development indicate that excellent schools are a key attractor for private sector companies and small businesses that are investigating relocation or start-up in our community.

    Chamber President and CEO Tim Hulbert Visits MESA at AHS

  • The director of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Association of Realtors reports that excellent, well-maintained schools lead to higher home values, ease of real estate sales, and the attractiveness of the community in which schools are located.
  • Local businesses and private sector service providers such as Union Bank and Trust and Martha Jefferson Hospital know that investing in the public education of our community’s young people makes sense. They see numerous graduates of our high schools who’ve become excellent local employees often after successful degree completion from Piedmont Virginia Community College or a four-year university.

2010 MoHS Graduation Ceremony

  • Researchers from the Weldon-Cooper Center of the University of Virginia know from their 2009 survey of Virginia’s employers that employers want employees who have a great work ethic, can work as members of teams, see the big picture of the business in which they work, appreciate diversity in the workplace, and figure out solutions to problems.  These are just a few of the 21st century workforce skills needed along with technological and basic learning skills.

 

Henley students work in teams to test different wind generator propellers

  • Albemarle County Public Schools does business to the greatest degree possible in our community with local contractors, small businesses, and service providers.  Our schools provide jobs to over 1500 families. We are a member of the business community and a contributor to the economic vitality of the county.

Baker-Butler Educator Trains Service Dogs

Fifth graders raise the flags each day at Stony Point School

An excellent school division is a hallmark of Albemarle County. Excellence is reflected in the workforce we employ, the performance of the young people we serve, and the good citizenship of staff who also volunteer and serve as leaders in non-profit organizations throughout Albemarle County.

We appreciate your past support. We need your continued support in 2011 to provide our young people with the best public education we can offer.

Thank you for taking pride in our schools and best wishes for a wonderful New Year!