As K-12 students sang, danced, acted and played music at the Peoria Arts and Culture Festival on Saturday, April 5, nearly 12,500 people watched, viewed their artwork and took part in arts workshops.
“We’re celebrating students’ artwork and performances, honoring their teachers for the work they’re doing in the classrooms, connecting with the community and advocating for arts education,” said Robert Panzer, art director for Peoria Unified School District.
The event, in its 12th year, is a partnership with the Peoria Education Foundation and the City of Peoria, and just one example of partnerships that have helped the school district continue to provide students arts opportunities despite several years of budget cuts.
“We’ve had to make adjustments – sometimes scaling back here and there – but where some districts had to cut entirely – we didn’t,” said Danielle Airey, Peoria’s communications director.
The governing board’s commitment to the arts role in whole child development has remained steady through difficult economic times, Panzer said.
In Arizona, 87 percent of students have access to one art form each week from a highly qualified teacher, according to the 2010 Arizona Arts Education Census.
It also found that partnerships between schools and cultural organizations are a model for the nation, and teachers excel at finding alternative funding for arts materials.
Reasons to fund arts education
Why is arts education important? U.S. employers rank creativity and innovation among the top skills they seek, and superintendents say arts classes are most likely to develop creativity, according to the Conference Board’s Ready to Innovate 2008 report.
“In the arts, children learn to critically think and problem solve, to collaborate together on projects, to communicate in verbal and nonverbal ways and to use a lot of different ways to express themselves,” Panzer said. “It’s an extremely important piece of a child’s education.”
But Arizona schools are handicapped by nearly nonexistent funds for arts materials at about a half a cent per student per day, according to the 2010 Arizona Arts Education Census.
“Arts educators face some of the same issues that all educators in Arizona schools have faced – a lack of funding for resources,” said Lynn Tuttle, director of arts education for the Arizona Department of Education.
From crayons, paper and scissors in art classrooms to replacing ripped or lost sheet music for band students, the loss of soft capital funds has hit arts education hard, Tuttle said.
“We’ve never really had that funded well across the state,” Tuttle said. “They’re not new burdens, they’re not unusual burdens, but budget spending gets exacerbated by the recession.”
So teachers have found other ways to fund those items whether it’s through Prop. 301 money, parent teacher organizations, or other fundraising events, Tuttle said.
For example, money raised from the Peoria Arts and Cultural Festival goes to grants for arts teachers, to equip their classrooms for students, Panzer said.
Washington Elementary School District hired more music, P.E., art and library teachers by extending kindergarteners’ school day by an hour and eliminating one of two afternoon bus runs, Tuttle said.
“They make it work, but that’s something that would be awfully nice if we could rectify over time,” Tuttle said.
Preliminary data from a follow-up to the 2010 Arts Education Census indicates that in 2012-13 fewer students had no arts at school. It also shows that charter school students had more access to the arts than in 2010.
“Given the extraordinarily difficult budgeting times schools have been facing, this, to me, speaks volumes on how school boards work hard to prioritize all the components of education that are good for students – not just the tested subject areas,” Tuttle said.
While most elementary and middle schools offer music and visual arts, art and dance are most popular in high school, according to the 2010 Arizona Arts Education Census. In Arizona, more students take dance in high school than band, orchestra or theatre.
Partnerships are key
Building long-term partnerships with arts and cultural organizations has enabled some districts to continue to give students access to arts education or arts experiences.
For example, Childsplay has multiyear partnerships with many districts, Tuttle said.
VH1 Save the Music Foundation and the Arizona Community Foundation contributed to a donor’s fund to buy musical instruments for West Valley schools including all Liberty Elementary School District schools and Westpark Elementary School in Buckeye, Tuttle said.
“The Phoenix Art Museum has done some extraordinary work with Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards looking at close reading and visual arts,” Tuttle said. “They looked at what role the art museum could play in helping youth develop that discernible eye and how that same process is used in close reading of text.”
The museum partnered with Phoenix Union High School District and other districts in piloting that over the past five years, Tuttle said.
“The arts are a place where we can physically embody the work that we’re asking kids to do with this new set of standards,” Tuttle said.
Peoria partnered with Childsplay to bring over 2,800 elementary students to Sunrise Mountain High School this year for eight performances, with West Valley Symphony to perform and do orchestra instruction at five schools, with Theater Works, Arizona Broadway Theatre and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to bring artists-in-residence to many schools and provide professional development for teachers.
“It’s not one organization or one partnership. It’s everybody coming together to be committed to arts education and the children in the district,” Panzer said.
Peoria recently was honored for its arts education program with the 26th annual Kennedy Center Alliance for the Arts Education Network and National School Boards Association Award.
In its application for the award, the district examined its art offerings, and found K-6 students are exposed to the arts multiple times each week. Seventh- and eighth-grade students have at least one or more arts experiences on campus each week. More than 25 percent of high school students take an arts class each semester.
How arts help students learn
“The arts are one of multiple pathways in to help kids be engaged and curious,” Tuttle said. “They are a very different way of learning.”
Students are asked to compare, contrast, evaluate, and critique in all subject areas, Tuttle noted.
“In the arts we do that physically, through creating, dancing or acting in theater,” Tuttle said. “It’s a very kinesthetic and emotive way to take in that learning that helps cement it for some kids and makes it real.”
Tuttle, whose background is in music education, said music was a way for her as a student to connect with other subject areas like physics and history.
Through arts integration, featured at Foothills Fine Arts Academy and Desert Harbor Elementary, Peoria’s students use arts to show their mastery of content in math, science, social studies and language arts. For example, students have used dance to demonstrate skip counting and to express the water cycle, Panzer said.
New arts standards
The new National Coalition for Core Arts Standards currently in development will build upon Arizona’s current create, relate and evaluate arts standards by adding connecting, presenting, producing and performing pieces, Panzer said.
“In arts classrooms, we always have focused on the doing,” Panzer said. “Parents will still see the products, but hopefully now they’re also going to see the students being able to connect it to their own life, find more of a purpose for creation of the artwork and reflect on the artwork based on their own experiences.”
The new standards will show teachers what students should master, but teachers will determine how to help students accomplish that by building on skills they learned in earlier grades, and assess students on those skills, Panzer said.
Tuttle, who is part of the group developing the new standards, said “These standards are also trying to be more open about the variety of ways kids engage in the arts.”
While many schools may not focus on media arts, “kids are creating and producing art using media – animation, video, gaming, etc. – outside the classroom and maybe it’s time we got engaged with them in this,” Tuttle said.
The new standards encourage arts teachers to ensure students understand what they are performing, its structure, function, content, how it relates to the world it was created in, and be creative, Tuttle said.
“We want to make sure we have the arts around,” Panzer said. “They give us a way to express ourselves that no other form can do.”