Welcome back to my blog about my “You and the World” project addressing the lack of arts education in schools, especially here in the Philadelphia area. In my first blog post, I explained this year-long project that we have undertaken, in which we focus on an issue in our community and work to not only inform ourselves about it, but to inform others through blogs and take action to change it. I chose the issue of lack of arts education in schools, and found that when implemented, the arts have the power to motivate kids to do better, and that they provide a safe, healthy form of self-expression to help children deal with the problems they face. I concluded wondering about other organizations working towards changing this issue, as well as the other side of the story: what are the cons?
In the time since my last post, I have asked around about arts programs working with schools and was surprised to find two new organizations/programs that I had not heard about! Arts Link, a sub-program of the Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership (PAEP) from which I drew information for my first post, is a program that uses teaching artists to reinforce science and mathematics skills using artistic expression. At the same time, they educate teachers about how to effectively teach and reinforce skills using arts in the curriculum, while still meeting district standards. They have worked with multiple schools in Philadelphia, and as can be seen in the graph below displaying results of a survey taken at the end of the program, the value of the program was decided almost unanimously.
The other program is Arden For All, a program sponsored by the Arden Theatre located in Old City Philadelphia that provides schools with books related to two selected children’s plays a year, and sends teaching artists to run workshops with the children in their schools so that they learn about the theatre and how it works, while reading and understanding the story behind the play and how it connects to what they are learning in English class. I would love to learn more about how this program and Arts Link use the arts to enhance learning of core subjects, and if possible I would like to contact them so that they can explain in more detail what it is that they do, as well as contact some of the schools they have worked with, such as the Stephen Decatur School.
I did, however contact and interview another leading figure in arts education. As part of our project, we had to create “original research” (a survey, an interview, or field observations), and I chose to interview Carol Domb. She is the principal of GAMP (Girard Academic Music Program), a middle and high school in Philadelphia that is recognized for its rigorous music-based curriculum. Before that she was principal at McCall Elementary School, and worked with both Arts Link and Arden for All to bring the arts to the children there as well. In our interview, she explained to me how arts education was all about “making the connection” between the arts and other “core” standards such as mathematics and science.
“I believe it’s critical for students, and I believe we don’t serve the children if we don’t have the arts in our schools.” - Carol Domb
Principal Domb shared with me her experiences as a principal attempting to balance the state-wide budget cuts and the arts, which really answered my question about the other side. She said that they “work really hard to raise money to support our initiative” and that they have been hit hard by the budget crisis, especially since it costs so much money to run a music program. “It’s staff, and instruments, [we] ensure that, you know, students have the tools that they need to be successful.”
However, she also shared with me some of the rewards that she sees just by walking around the school at GAMP, and by watching classrooms in the Arts Link program at McCall Elementary. She described the involvement of both staff and students as “amazing”, she repeatedly called the arts a vehicle to improve learning, and explained how these programs had the power to “transform schools” such as at Decatur Elementary, where I will try and contact to further my research.
“It’s definitely something that even in free time. You see kids singing, or playing the piano, or practicing the violin. So, it does carry over to their social life and they do all have that same passion.” - Carol Domb
Interviewing Principal Domb has served to reinforce my belief that the arts in schools perform what is arguably the most important function in the classroom: motivating children to learn and reach their full potential. Without a reason to come to school and learn, knowledge is wasted and discarded, but when something such as the arts can inspire kids to learn and weave their own ideas into what they are learning, the knowledge that they are taught becomes a part of them. Only then does can it be applied to the real world and taught to others through the students themselves. The students of today are the teachers or the next generation, and what good are teachers who cannot apply and connect with what they teach?
“What a better way to get the kids to come to school when you’re teaching something that they really have a passion for?” -Carol Domb
The third and final part of this project is called “Agents of Change”, and this is what all of my research has been leading up to. We go out and take action to practice what we preach. I will be organizing a variety show of sorts at Science Leadership Academy, so that students can perform/showcase whatever form of art that they choose. It will offer them a healthy chance to express themselves creatively, and healthy self-expression is another key benefit of arts education. Without a constructive outlet, people, especially young people turn to harmful ways to deal with the problems that arise in their lives, and I want to change that by providing a safe outlet for creativity and self-expression.
I will make sure to contact other schools that are a part of the Arts Link and Arden for All programs, such as Decatur Elementary, and to contact the programs themselves. Be sure to watch for my next post about the results of my Agent of Change variety show.
For the link to my interview transcript, click here.
For the link to my (updated) annotated bibliography, click here.
The audio of my interview is below.