Look to the arts to increase student success

By Linda Popp, Coordinator, Office of Visual Arts; Farrell Maddox, Supervisor, Office of Visual Arts; and Angela Tanner, Coordinator, Office of Music

The Perry Hall High School Gators Marching Band performing at an annual administrative meeting in August 2012

While the arts are beneficial for art’s sake, research shows sequential arts programs can have a profound effect on overall student achievement. The arts are a fundamental part of the cultural heritage of every student and, as such, enhance the quality of life. There is also ample evidence that the arts help students develop the attitudes, characteristics, and intellectual skills required to participate effectively in today’s society and economy. The arts have immediate rewards, focus on positive achievement, teach self-discipline, reinforce self-esteem, and foster thinking skills and creativity while helping students grow into productive citizens. They teach the importance of teamwork and cooperation. They demonstrate the direct connection between study, hard work, and high levels of achievement.

In Ten Reasons Why the Arts are Critical in a 21st Century World, Elliot Self write, “Learning a musical instrument, creating a painting, learning to dance, or singing in a chorus teaches that taking small steps, practicing to get better at something, being persistent and being patient, even in the face of adversity, are important for growth and improvement. In other words, the arts teach habits, behaviors, and attitudes that are necessary for success in any field of endeavor.”  As students learn to read notes, compose music, practice dance steps, create a painting, or act in a drama, they develop new concepts, build vocabulary, and learn a new language.

Students participating in the 2012 visual arts summer camp visited Hampton Mansion for inspiration.

Students are shortchanged if we fail to take advantage of what the arts can accomplish. The teaching of the arts should be directed to all students, not only the talented. The arts cannot be learned through random or casual experiences any more than math or biology can. The content of the arts consists of skills and knowledge that require a regular and systematic delivery of instruction leading to clearly identified expectations.

A comprehensive arts program enhances cognitive development, social skills, self-esteem, and interest in learning while broadening understanding of all subject matter. As reported in Involvement in the Arts and Success in Secondary Schools by James Catterall, students with high arts involvement performed better on standardized achievement tests than students without arts involvement. Moreover, the high arts-involved students also watched fewer hours of television, participated in more community service, and reported less boredom in school.

Sandra S. Ruppert writes in Why Schools with Arts Programs Do Better at Narrowing Achievement Gaps, “We know the arts can make a difference in the academic lives of eighth graders. A decade ago, the Arts Education Partnership published groundbreaking research that compared eighth graders who were highly involved in the arts with those who had little or no involvement, and found consistently better outcomes for the highly involved students: better grades, less likelihood of dropping out by Grade 10, and more positive attitudes about school. The study also showed that the benefits of high levels of arts participation can make more of a difference for economically disadvantaged students.”

The arts are a basic component of a complete education. Learning in the arts is academic, basic, and comprehensive. It is as simple as A-B-C.


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