All the world’s a stage, wrote playwright William Shakespeare in “As You Like It.” He’d probably be surprised to find, centuries later, how it has become increasingly less the case in our country’s public schools. Education experts report that dwindling budgets have forced music and arts programs to be cut from many public schools. That means fewer drama and theater programs, fewer choirs and glee clubs, and fewer marching bands. But the casting calls may finally be going out again, as new studies have revealed the role theater, music and creative arts can play on a student’s ultimate academic success.
Earlier this year, President Obama’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) launched a new arts education initiative as part of its reform strategy to help improve student grades and promotions in low-performing schools. Turnaround Arts, a joint creation of the U.S. Department of Education and the White House Domestic Policy Council, is a new public-private partnership designed to increase student engagement through the arts with the goal of ultimately narrowing the achievement gap.
Why the renewed interest in arts education now? The whole PCAH initiative was developed as a direct result of a series of studies done that indicate arts education boosts academic achievement. Three studies conducted by the Council on Foreign Relations, the Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Arts were released in April, and highlighted the impact of student participation and access to arts education. Some of the findings to come out of the studies include:
* Arts-engaged eighth graders from high-poverty areas achieve higher test scores in science and writing than their non-engaged peers.
* Arts-engaged children are three times more likely to have excellent school attendance records.
* Arts education deters delinquency and truancy and increases academic performance in at-risk youth.
* At-risk students cite their participation in the arts as a reason for staying in school.
Enter Communities In Schools, stage right. It is our sole purpose to provide the resources that at-risk students need to help them graduate from high school. Our site coordinators understand the connection between arts programs and engagement. At Communities In Schools of Jacksonville, Fla., Jump Start Strings puts violins and cellos into the hands of elementary school students. Led by Program Coordinator Peggy Toussant and string members of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, Jump Start Strings offers students from several elementary schools the opportunity to learn and play during after school programs. Students then have an option to continue their instruction during summer camps located at the participating schools.
Can music and arts make a difference in a young person’s life? Communities In Schools of Jacksonville student Jason Jackson recently completed 5th grade at Pickett Elementary and was accepted into LaVilla School of the Arts.
Because disadvantaged children have fewer opportunities to experience the arts on their own, public school programs provide an excellent introduction. If including dance, theater and fine arts in elementary curricula can help with engagement for at-risk students, and ultimately boost graduation rates, let’s dim the house lights, raise the curtains and put great performances back into our public schools.
Watch this video about Jason Jackson and how Jump Start Strings helped him overcome physical challenges.