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Arts Education is Educational Excellence

By Ben Martin, Executive Director, Missouri Alliance for Arts Education
The week of Sept. 10-16 has been designated by Congressional resolution as Arts In Education Week. For seven days, we will celebrate the powerful influence that dance, music, theater and visual art have on the lives of students and their larger communities. And, the good news is, there is a lot to celebrate.
Across the state and nation schools are discovering that an effective, strong education is to be found in schools that have regular classrooms infused with arts-related activities. Example after example, study after study, is revealing how powerful the arts are as an educational tool. In one, the August 2016 edition of the Christian Science Monitor published a cover story about a Connecticut school entitled “The School that Art Saved,” which details the strides one elementary school has taken forward after moving to an arts-integrated learning model.
I live in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Within that region, schools in Liberty, Hickman Mills, Belton, Shawnee Mission and both Kansas Cities are trying out new techniques in incorporating arts learning throughout the school day. Even leaders in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math have discovered that by adding the Arts they can move students full steam ahead.
The Digital Media Lab at Summit Technology Academy in the Lee’s Summit School District has proved that by blending instruction in computer technology with graphics, music and video, they can graduate students career-ready. They fit right in with the aptly named Innovation Campus there. Across the state, other forward-thinking educators are using the same techniques to produce impressive results.
However, there is still a vital place for the traditional arts classroom where students focus on developing artistic abilities. If nothing else study in the arts completes the well-rounded education so necessary to create good human beings to live in our society. Artistic pursuits allow students to practice creativity, innovation, and perhaps, most important, perseverance in completing a task, and completing it well.
While in other parts of the school a student may accept that 80 percent completion is mastery of a subject, it is in the arts that a student learns that only complete and total excellence is acceptable. Can you imagine a high school band which only hits 80 percent of their notes correctly or a play where the light board operator feels good about herself if 16 of 20 lighting cues happened on time? How about a painting where 80 percent was completed? Nor can the student in the arts. They strive for perfection in those classes. Is it any wonder then that research reveals that students in the arts tend to perform better in their regular classes as well?
So, join with students, parents and teachers around the nation in celebrating Arts in Education this week. Encounter a student or their parents and listen to the exceptional insights they can give you about the impact of the Arts on their lives. If you happen to encounter one of those dedicated educators who is reaching his students through the Arts, say thank you. And if you also encounter an educational leader in your community, please remind her that you expect your schools to educate the whole child. All of us in arts education thank you for your ongoing support.
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Ben Martin is a retired public school theater teacher and Executive Director for the Missouri Alliance for Arts Education.

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