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Friday, May 31, 2013

Guns or Clarinets ..... May 2013

I am so moved by a piece I watched this week on NBC Nightly News. It's about a school in Roxbury, Massachusetts that was in dire straits. Violence ruled, and the environment resembled a prison. Kids could not even carry a backpack to school for fear they were carrying weapons.

Orchard Garden School had been labeled the "dropout factory." They have had five principals in seven years and nearly fifty percent of teachers each year did not return the following fall. Enter principal number six.

When Andrew Bott arrived, the school was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on security, and he decided to make a bold move - to reapportion the funds used for security into arts programs for his students - and to use those programs as a tool for success.

Orchard Garden is now termed the "turnaround school." While it was once labeled the worst performing school in Massachusetts, it is now boasts the fastest improvement rate in the state.

Surprised? Me, not so much. I have been beating this drum for decades. From my own experience, at age 13, the first time I sang for a school assembly, my life was changed forever. I was transformed from an insecure, fearful child into a musician. I knew that I had a talent and a gift. I knew that I was special.

What was even more important in that experience was the transformation I experienced by conquering my fears, taking a chance, taking to the stage. That is where real, measurable growth occurred. 

For many children - singing, acting, dancing, writing, filming, being on a debate team, or even working backstage has brought about the same profound transformation. It does not matter whether one chooses the arts as a career, or even whether one possesses an exceptional talent. The benefit is brilliant nonetheless.

Consistently, the very first programs that our schools cut for budgetary reasons are the arts. And yet, the Presidents' Council on the Arts has reported that the arts:

  Improve math and English test scores
  Improve self confidence and poise
  Improve team work and problem solving skills
  Reduce incidents of violence in schools

Kids who are immersed in arts programs are more likely to attend college. And they are more likely to succeed in life.

I am baffled that the arts still lack support in our elementary, middle and high schools. Recently in my home town, funds were approved for after school arts programs. Yet, the school superintendent instead used those funds to bus failing children to after school remedial programs. How many times must we remind ourselves that listening to Mozart improves math aptitude before we actually believe it?

From my perspective, if kids are not learning what they need to learn in six hours, they will not learn any more in seven. Depriving children an arts education robs them of an opportunity to greatly enrich their lives and improve their confidence and self esteem. But that's the least of it... it deprives them an opportunity to fully succeed, and that is something that every child deserves.

Please watch this wonderful story by clicking on the link:

And, PLEASE support the arts in your local schools!

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