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Arts education needs greater priority in the classroom

If arts education is extremely important as Washington County Director of Schools Ron Dykes said publicly at a recent Board of Education meeting, the Board should respond positively to parents’ requests in support of expanding art education classes.
The Herald & Tribune supports an expansion to offer art education classes throughout the entire school year.
In reality, calling for an expansion of the arts program is somewhat of a misnomer.  As explained by Dykes, there was a time when the classes were offered. While not sure why two art teaching positions were cut a number of years ago, he believes the positions were eliminated because of “a funding issue.”
Since the positions were deleted, Jonesborough’s McKinney Arts Center has been established with a mission that includes the promotion of the arts.  One of the parents at the Board of Ed meeting read statistics provided by McKinney Center Director Theresa Hammons. These statistics include facts that document visual arts students score an average of 47 points higher on math and 31 points higher on the verbal section of the SAT.
Equally compelling was the statement that “Many of our students at Fall Branch … don’t have opportunities outside of school to experience anything in relation to art in general.” The parent  pointed out that “About half our students are on the free or reduced lunch program, meaning they have limited funds available to pursue those things outside the school setting.”
Studies show that students in schools with art programs are three times more likely to graduate than those who don’t. Arts programs within an educational setting have importance in not only expanding students’ minds but in keeping children off the streets and out of the correctional system.
The federal “No Child Left Behind Act” recognized the value of arts education by including arts as a core subject. Participation in arts classes also relieves stress and helps students avoid getting bored in school.
Arts programs give students a venue in which to express themselves. They think creatively when they are involved in art.
As a result of expanding their way of thinking, students in arts programs get better grades.
Members of the Board of Education should realize that parents get excited whenever their “children come home with their newest art masterpiece.”  To the Board’s credit, there is arts education in the county schools. However, what the parents requested seems modest in comparison to monies spent in other parts of the school’s budget.
Even without statistical justification, arts programs have inherent value in education. A letter from a fifth-grade student read at the Board meeting best expressed the value with these words: “We miss our art class, our art teacher and having an opportunity to express our personal creativity in a way that we feel cannot be judged by a letter grade or test score.”
While the Board took no action at its meeting, Director Dykes said “It is my philosophy, which was demonstrated by the parents here tonight, it (arts education) is crucial for the schools.”  Board Chairman Todd Granger promised with budget talks taking place in the near future that the board would take the expanded arts program into consideration.
The request to the Board of Education concerned arts programs at Jonesborough Middle School and Fall Branch Elementary School. Hopefully, a view of the art education needs of the entire school system will be the subject of board action.
Candidates for positions on the Washington County Board of Education are facing an upcoming election. In view of a petition addressed to the board signed by approximately 300 persons requesting expanded arts programs, those individuals wishing to serve as elected education leaders should be prepared to state their view of arts education in the county schools.