Spotlight Shines on Maintaining the Arts in Schools
They may have been preaching to the choir with their singsong sermon on the value of arts education, but members of the Speakchorus from Woodstock Union High School struck a high note with the participants of an arts educators’ conference here.
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The Woodstock, Vt., group, which presents short, rhythmic programs of literature, lyrics, and philosophy woven into a single theme, performed at the annual meeting of the Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education Network. The network is a coalition of 45 state arts organizations that have been working to enhance arts offerings in schools.
The 10-minute recitation of “The Very Art of Me,” an original composition by teacher Harriet Worrell, offered a dramatic plea to resist efforts to pare down arts education programs in the name of standards-based improvement.
“One and one is two. History speaks to me. Technology is a key,” the 13-student chorus chanted. “But my age has a voice as well as my science, as well as my math and my language. It is the voice of me and my humanity.”
The students went on: “If you omit the arts from my life, you are in effect short-changing my mind.”
The 500-student school, which has an elaborate theater program, was one of five recipients of the Creative Ticket National Schools of Distinction Award given by the network during the Nov. 3 conference. The chorus has recently performed for Vermont’s superintendents’ group and on the local affiliate station of National Public Radio.
While the arts have experienced a comeback in some districts—owing, in part, to recent research on the potential for arts education to raise student achievement in the core subjects—many educators still feel pressure to put greater emphasis on subjects that are tested.
“If we focus on academic standards in the core subjects,” said Woodstock Union Principal Johanna Harpster, “we might be apt to short-circuit those programs for which there is not a state test.”
Other award recipients were: Franklin Magnet School of the Arts in Syracuse, N.Y.; Mesa Elementary School in Boulder, Colo.; Timberview Middle School in Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Los Angeles County High School for the Arts.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has created a community audit to help educators assess the status of arts education in their schools. Based on recent research on the impact of arts instruction on learning, the inventory is designed to evaluate local policies on arts education and to identify successful school programs.
“The audit is an analytical tool, a planning tool, and a conversation-starter,” said Richard J. Deasy, the director of the Arts Education Partnership, a coalition of arts-advocacy groups.
He said it will also generate districts’ examples of effective arts education programs.
— Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
A version of this article appeared in the November 15, 2000 edition of Education Week as Reporter’s Notebook