The Journal News calls attention to the ongoing, devastating cuts to arts education across New York (“School arts take big hits — Programs fight to maintain a place in tight budgets,” Jan. 18 article). The widespread dismantling of arts programming is occurring in spite of the fact that arts education research has long correlated student participation in the arts with better academic performance.
As you note, even the College Board reports a correlation between student arts participation and higher SAT scores. In addition, the most recent Common Core Learning Standards have been revised to include
specific arts and music components for grades K-12 because educators are increasingly appreciating the significance of arts education in the development of young minds.
Schools find themselves caught in this impossible dilemma of recognizing the need for arts education but lacking the funding to provide it.
As schools face these ever-increasing budgetary challenges, nonprofit organizations like The Play Group Theatre have been stepping in to bridge the gap in local schools.
The Play Group Theatre, a nonprofit whose mission is to provide theater education for Westchester youth, has been bringing arts curriculum into schools for over 18 years. PGT and others have developed Artist in
Residency programs that offer students arts curriculum taught by teaching artists who are specialists in their fields.
Nonprofits like PGT work hard to seek private funding and grants to help schools and teachers in local Westchester schools fulfill the theater arts components of the Common Core Learning Standards with these engaging and inspiring teaching artists.
The Yonkers school district has suffered especially devastating cuts to arts education. In April, Play Group Theatre was awarded a grant to design a Musical Theatre Artist in Residence curriculum for the Patricia A. DiChiaro School in Yonkers. PGT has created a program for prekindergarten through eighth grade that
facilitates the release of each student’s own creative expression while simultaneously providing educational
enrichment that meets the Common Core Learning Standards.
While developing literacy skills including text analysis, writing and public speaking, the classes foster selfconfidence and teamwork. Thanks to this grant, PGT will return to each classroom several times, exposing both the students and teachers to a deeply stimulating and exciting arts experience in a school system that
currently offers students little to no art or music curriculum.
Whether we focus on test scores and academic grades or overall child development, educators agree that arts education transforms classroom learning. When the arts are taught comprehensively, they help children develop learning and thinking skills, which translate into academic subject areas as well as the socialemotional
Arts education that is integrated into the fabric of a school, through the regular curriculum and in-school residencies, enhances learning in all subjects and strengthens the school’s social environment. Here's why:
• Arts education engages a wide variety of learning styles, helping schools reach more children. A child might struggle in a math class, but when he picks up an instrument he begins to understand rhythm, sequence, space and time. Another child might not be engaged in history class through textbooks and work
sheets, but dramatic literature brings the world of history to life for her.
• When we are able to reach more children, they are more likely to view themselves, and more of their peers, as successful in the school environment.
• The arts foster higher-order thinking skills, including analysis, judgment, reflection and decision making, all of which are useful in every subject.
• Studying the arts encourages students to reach for excellence and learn discipline.
• The arts create enthusiasm for learning.
• Study of the arts increases confidence, emotional maturity, collaborative skills, compassion and the ability to listen attentively.
• The arts teach creativity, and provide a forum for understanding and celebrating different points of view.
Sadly, the same state funding cuts afflicting schools and necessitating their arts programming cuts have likewise devastated state funding of nonprofit arts education organizations. These not-for-profits have had to redouble their efforts to secure private funds in order to support these invaluable arts educational programs.
As the budget cuts grow increasingly severe and widespread, it is important to support nonprofits like PGT in order to ensure that children can still receive this transformative educational experience that supports their academic growth while nurturing their social and emotional development.
The writer is chair of the board of trustees, The Play Group Theatre, based in White Plains. To learn more about the Play Group Theatre; go to www.playgroup.org.