Reviving Creativity: How to Bring Art Back to Schools

As schools look for ways to slash their budgets, it’s become en vogue to treat art programs as disposable. After all, children need to be prepared for the future, and the future is in STEM, not in the arts, right? Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Some schools find the arts unnecessary, but advocates are fighting to show America that art is still a subject that needs to be taught in schools.

What’s the solution?

Many schools have to cut their arts programs, and there is simply nothing they can do about that. Budget concerns and testing concerns are often top-of-mind in these situations.

The issue becomes crystal clear: Many arts programs are beneficial to students as they are. But they also have some secondary benefits that can even carry over to improve those measurements that educators are forced to care about: test scores.

One solution is the after-school art program, similar to the ones the Michelle Obama has endorsed.

However, there are creative solutions where schools can incorporate the arts into their curriculum.

One of them is arts integration. Instead of treating the arts as a separate, distant relative to other classroom endeavors, these programs integrate musical instruments, painting, dancing, drawing, singing and more into traditional subjects like science, math, and language. When implemented correctly, these programs are unbelievably effective.

Let’s look at West Michigan Academy of Arts & Academics, for example. Located in Ferrysburg, Michigan, this charter school has found ways to make stale topics like economics captivating through dance, music, and visual art learning.

Perhaps it sounds like WMAAA allows its students to goof off. However, what seems like only a “fun” learning environment has legitimate outcomes. The test scores of WMAAA students rival the highest-rated traditional public schools in its district and neighboring ones too. By allowing students to be active, instead of burying them in text books or regular written assignments alone, learning moves from a place of isolation to one that has other applications beyond the topic at hand.

Public Middle School 223 in the Bronx is another example of a school using arts integration methods effectively. Students in the school – the lowest income district in all of New York – participated in a four-year arts integration program that took students from basically no arts learning to multi-faceted lesson plans with arts inclusion. The results? An 8 percent improvement in Language Arts scores, 9 percent improvement in math scores and less absenteeism. Whether the last point impacted the higher scores is irrelevant. If students want to be in school more because of arts integration, and their test scores improve, as a result, that is reason enough to call a program a success.

But why does arts integration work?

The science behind this is solid. Here it is: more of the brain is at work when the arts are part of the learning process. As a result, the student strengthens his attentiveness, reaction time and comprehension. There is also plenty of research to suggest that arts education methods improve long-term retention. In other words, what the students learn through arts integration will stay in their memories for longer than that year’s standardized test. When students are allowed academic expression through art, like drawing a picture or writing a song, the information is embedded in their minds. Long-term learning and practical application of knowledge are both supported when the arts are integrated.

Teachers can do a lot to support arts integration in school—even when the school has no money to support an official program. Artistic talent is not needed for a teacher to be successful in arts integration, but she does need to be innovative enough to merge art concepts with other content. Social media is an amazing platform for teaching ideas, particularly when it comes to the arts, and teachers should use these available resources from around the world to integrate arts and traditional academics.

Teachers should also seek out partnerships with other departments to make the most of the arts learning in the classroom. Come up with a themed learning module, then reach out to the art teacher or music teacher for ideas on partnering for a greater learning experience for the students. Bottom line: Even without the cash in hand, teachers can and should seek out arts integration initiatives in their classrooms.

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