Robin Sawaske, associate superintendent of the Santa Barbara Unified School District, recently told me, “The Santa Barbara Unified School District is very fortunate in that the Measures H and I parcel tax supports music and arts in the schools. We have been able to supplement our programs through this generous support from the community.”
That is not the case in many areas nationwide. Because of the current weak economy and cuts in funding, a multitude of schools are cutting back or dropping their arts programs altogether.
Santa Barbara is definitely lucky to have support for its music and arts programs, for many studies show evidence that kids who participate in the arts benefit from gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking and verbal skill.
Years of research show us that the arts are intimately connected to the values that go to the core and heart of our nation and what we want for our children.
Take a look at the following research studies and results listed by Art in Action:
» Ninth-grade students in the Chicago Arts Partnership in Education program, which integrates arts education with more traditional academic studies, were reading one full grade level ahead of their peers who were not involved in the program (Deasy & Catterall).
» 79.2 percent of eighth-graders involved in the arts reported earning mostly As and Bs compared with 64.2 percent of students with no artistic involvement (Deasy & Catterall).
» “The schools that produced the highest academic achievement in the United States today are spending 20 to 30 percent of the day on the arts” (IAEEA test, 1988).
» Forty-one percent of 10th-graders with arts involvement scored in the top two quartiles on standardized tests compared with only 24.9 percent of their peers who were not involved in the arts (Deasy & Catterall).
The arts also have a positive effect on students who do not adhere well to traditional educational programs and for at-risk students. According to Art in Action, “A 20-year program among low-achieving students in eight inner-city New York elementary schools that integrated visual and performing arts showed positive results in improving reading performance. (Welch) Forty-one percent of students at-risk for high school dropout said that the arts kept them in school” (Barry, Critical Links).
Art programs encourage innovation and nonlinear thinking, skills that can be used not only in academic settings but in the professional world as well.
Eric Cooper, president and founder of the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education, puts it this way: “Arts education enables those children from a financially challenged background to have a more level playing field with children who have had those enrichment experiences.”
Children involved in art programs are provided the opportunity to be creative and to use their imaginations to foster new ways of thinking — about themselves and the world in general. Participation helps improve their self-esteem, confidence and social skills, plus learn how to collaborate as a team.
Unfortunately, low-income or at-risk children sometimes fall through the cracks and are deprived of arts programs. That would be a travesty if that were to happen in Santa Barbara. A city so immensely rich in culture and overflowing with the arts has a rare and privileged responsibility to provide an opportunity for every single child to benefit from this creative environment.
As a community, let’s continue to develop inclusive art programs for our kids — inside and outside of the school system. Our efforts to “think outside of the box” in the development of art programs will enrich the lives of our children immeasurably.