Editor's Note: Brian Hersh is the program director of Any Given Child Sarasota and Angela Hartvigsen is the fine arts curriculum coordinator and EdExplore SRQ project manager for Sarasota County Schools.
With the recent start of a new school year and the upcoming season of local arts and cultural events, it is important for us to remember the impact of arts education in our homes, schools and communities. For decades, research has shown that when students participate in the arts as a part of their complete education, they go on to succeed in school, work and life.
As the nation has done every year since 2010, earlier this month we marked National Arts in Education Week, a national celebration of the transformative power of the arts in education. In Sarasota and Manatee counties and throughout the Suncoast, we celebrate the arts in our schools every day.
Recently, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act was signed into law, replacing No Child Left Behind. The new law fully supports the arts as part of every student’s “well-rounded” education. It provides the flexibility for students to learn creatively and for local districts and states to create schools that embrace the arts. What we know is simple: students attend school more often when they have access to the arts, parents and families get involved when schools embrace the arts, dropout rates decrease, grades improve, and the halls are filled with artwork, songs, drama and dancing.
Let’s take a moment to cheer for our arts education accomplishments, like our national partnership with the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Any Given Child initiative; EdExplore SRQ, which gives teachers an easy way to connect with community arts, science and cultural organizations for student field trips and other experiential learning opportunities aligned with the curriculum; and the many other partnerships, collaborations and support from our arts groups, foundations, businesses and individuals.
However, study after study indicates the opportunity gap in arts education, specifically along racial and socio-economic lines. In Sarasota County, 52 percent of our students receive free or reduced-cost meals. But while we are helping to close the “hunger gap,” it’s also important to close the “arts gap.” We are doing that in our schools, but we can do more. Together, we can ensure equity and access to a quality arts education for all young people in our community, state and nation.
Through the collective impact of the arts community, students in Sarasota County public schools benefit from free learning encounters that would not otherwise be possible. Examples include opportunities for third-grade students to enjoy a performance of the Sarasota Ballet, fourth-grade students to tour The Ringling to study Florida history and visual art, and middle schools students to visit Patriot Plaza to learn about civics and American history through an exhibition of photography, mosaics and sculpture.
In Sarasota County, all traditional public schools have certified music and art teachers and the district offers a wide range of high-quality music, theatre, dance and visual art programs. However, there are fewer dance and theatre programs in our district; we count these among the areas in which we have opportunities to grow. Within the last few years, the district has expanded the arts in some middle schools, adding programs for string orchestras, chorus and dance.
Every student should experience all of the arts, in school and in the community. To ensure that access to the arts is equitable, partnerships of arts organizations and schools are vital.
So while we celebrate, we also must acknowledge that we still have more work to do to, by expanding and enhancing arts education programs and opportunities in schools, by allowing more students and teachers to connect with our community’s outstanding arts and cultural offerings, and by encouraging an arts-integrated approach to teaching. It’s up to all of us, collectively and collaboratively, to ensure that all students have a continuous, quality arts education to help them become creative, engaged learners who are prepared to lead successful lives.
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