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Elevate the Central Importance of Arts Ed in SOMSD!

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We — a diverse group of active and engaged residents of Maplewood and South Orange — are writing to you in vigorous support of elevating the central importance of arts education in our school district. We act on behalf of the 40 excellent art and music teachers currently in the district, the 6,879 students who attend the district schools each day, and the many thousands more who will enter our schools in the years to come.

As the district moves forward with the creation of a new strategic plan, we believe whole-heartedly that with renewed consideration, the arts will help our district reach its goal of ensuring excellent education for all students.

As a tremendously creative community, we believe a greater commitment to arts education is imperative; we collectively endorse the idea that the arts should play a more integral role in the lives of all of our students throughout their academic careers at SOMSD.

We would like to challenge SOMSD to expand, deepen, and re-imagine its approach to arts education with open minds. In order to infuse our schools with creative ingenuity, we must employ creative ingenuity.  We must go beyond the traditional idea of what schools should do and think about what schools can be.

 Arts Education: What’s Missing?

  • Is SOMSD Meeting its Mandate? The NJ core curriculum content standards (CCCS) in the arts mandate districts to provide opportunities for learning in four arts disciplines: dance, music, theater, and visual arts, through sequential arts instruction provided by qualified teachers from grades K-12. Our district falls short of this mandate. Let’s work to surpass this goal.
  • Arts as a Core Subject: In December, President Obama signed a new ESSA act that re-classifies music and the arts as core subjects. This month, the New Jersey Legislature passed the Arts Education Grade Weighting Bill in a unanimous vote in both the Assembly and the Senate. The bill now goes to Governor Christie for signature. SOMSD should take the lead in this important movement, regardless of the bill’s outcome.
  • Limited Access to Powerful Learning: Too many students in the district receive their only arts instruction on a very limited basis within the school curriculum.  A robust arts education should be accessible to every child in every school.
  • The Arts, Throughout K-12: In particular, let’s examine the arts profiles of the elementary and middle schools. The arts offerings at Columbia High School are impressive, but they should be matched by equally strong options in the lower grades. We should build on the rousing success of CHS’s theater, musical, and visual arts offerings.

 Arts Education for Everyone: Why it Matters?

  • Promotes Critical Thinking: An education that develops and nourishes children’s creativity and innovative capacity will allow future leaders to solve problems and think imaginatively with a sense of discipline, critical thinking, and compassion learned through engagement in the arts.
  • Advances Academic Success: A growing body of evidence suggests that participation in the arts has a deep impact on academic achievement. Students who are engaged in active arts learning have higher verbal and math scores than their counterparts without such arts access. Arts engagement has become a predictor of students’ graduation rates and their success in college.
  • Reaches and Supports Underserved Children:  Because involvement in quality arts education is a powerful predictor of academic success, access should be equitable in all communities. Unfortunately, it’s not. The national trend shows that there are real disparities between the level of arts education that white students receive versus African American and Hispanic students.  Students of low socioeconomic status who participate in robust arts learning academically outperform comparable students who have no or low arts involvement.  SOMSD needs to look critically at how these ideas are reflected in local data. It’s imperative that arts education is most accessible to underserved populations who need it most.
  • Bolsters Non-Arts Classes: Teachers of non-arts classes who use the arts as a teaching tool in core subject areas can increase their impact, regardless of their teaching style.
  • Creates Positive School Environment and Positive Communities: Schools where arts education is accessible have more engaged students. Because the arts encourage collaboration and effective communication, students are able to develop group awareness, trust, mutual respect, and cultural sensitivity.  A learning environment rich in the arts helps students foster healthy, supportive communities; those students are more likely to practice greater community involvement, volunteerism, and political participation as adults.

Arts education is not a luxury to be enjoyed by a few; it is an essential part of the educational process for all students, equally as important for those who go into “non-artistic” careers as it is for those who aspire to be artists. In order to ensure the futures of an engaged, innovative, disciplined, successful, arts-educated citizenry, we must work together now, and act on their behalf.

We look forward to working with you, Superintendent Ramos, to accomplish just that.

Sincerely,

Arts Education for South Orange / Maplewood School District

 



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