The arts matter in education in more ways than one

We are in a time as educators when great emphasis is placed upon standardized test scores and the data they reveal in ranking school performance. It has been approaching for awhile – since No Child Left Behind was put into place several years ago. It seems with each passing year, the bar is raised a little higher and pressure is on to get down to the basics and drill, drill, drill.
At Saltillo Elementary, a different approach to traditional teaching of content is being taken. It began last year as we pursued a grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission for “Arts in the Classroom,” which enabled us to provide an arts-integrated approach to teaching the curriculum.
It has gone really well – and has been enjoyed by students and staff alike – so we’re now embarking upon Whole Schools Initiative. Becoming a Whole School is exciting and will require a minimum six-year commitment. It will also provide funding for arts-infused professional development for teachers and administrators, as well as opportunities for visiting artists from all disciplines to work with our students.
Some may ask why even emphasize arts when all of the testing is done in the core academic subjects. But isn’t it interesting to look at schools around us and throughout the country that have the highest test scores on standardized tests. Generally you will find that the arts are a part of their curriculum. Is this a coincidence? Or is it part of the environment that makes the students more successful in their efforts to learn and compete on standardized tests?
We know the arts encourage learning as processes of discovery, thereby prompting students to not only demonstrate their knowledge, but to test and defend it. The arts also engage students in a way that is more kinesthetic, and perhaps more emotionally satisfying. Staff morale is also positively affected by arts integration. Teachers are given the opportunity to be excited about what they teach as they see their students grasp a concept through hands-on experience in drama, music, dance or visual experiences. In addition, statistics show that absenteeism is reduced in arts-infused schools and parent involvement is increased significantly.
Saltillo Elementary will become one of two Whole Schools in Northeast Mississippi, along with Pierce Street Elementary in Tupelo, which has been a model school for the past 13 years.

Belinda McKinion is assistant principal at Saltillo Elementary School

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