Enhancing Connections to Other Academic Disciplines
By Michelle Bourg
The last 15 years have seen educators put more emphasis on test performance in basic subjects, particularly reading and math. But the arts are now making a comeback. New studies on the correlation between the arts and academic achievement support a trend to put the arts back into classrooms both here in Atlanta and across the country.
Arts experience has a positive effect on learning in general. According to Dr. Robin Hensley, Elementary Music Specialist at Greater Atlanta Christian School (GACS) in Norcross, “The fine arts enhance and strengthen connections to every other academic discipline.” Numerous studies show a positive connection between hands-on arts experience and motor skills, verbal learning, test performance and IQ.
Students with arts exposure are also more socially adept and exhibit more confidence, motivation, resilience, and innovative thought.
“Our strongest supporting evidence is our children,” says Nicole Kelly, Director of Curriculum and Special Projects at Benjamin Preparatory School of the Performing Arts in Atlanta. “When they leave the classroom, they excel in many areas.”
The arts can also complement academics and clarify or reinforce key concepts, says Peggy Benseker, Director of Arts at The Galloway School. “Some content may be challenging when presented in a passive or traditional way. Using the arts as a vehicle for teaching enables that content to become accessible through the integration of movement, music, drama and visual arts.”
While voluntary national arts education standards are in place, state standards vary widely. Georgia policies stipulate only that opportunities be provided for students to master fine arts competencies, making it necessary for parents to research individual schools and their respective arts programs to find the best fit for their child.
At Benjamin Preparatory, the belief is that artistic expression can and should be part of a child’s earliest experiences. “As of now, we are the only Georgia school offering a specialized arts program for this age group,” says Kelly. “We realized God-given talents start early, so we sought out to nurture those talents at a younger age.”
Music, dance, literature and foreign language at Benjamin Preparatory are woven into a Christian curriculum for infants through Grade 2. Children create and perform original works for the stage by kindergarten age. Arts and crafts are also a part of daily lessons, and a new computer and video lab will soon enable the children to explore the creative side of technology.
As students progress, extracurricular participation expands their artistic horizons. At Greater Atlanta Christian School (GACS), programs are offered during the day in band and orchestra, choir, drama, dance and the visual arts. In addition, the School of Music offers private instruction in vocal and instrumental music after school at the junior and senior high level, and in weekly classes during recess for grades K-12. The School of Ballet offers classes in dance disciplines and is also open to non-GACS students.
At The Lovett School in northwest Atlanta, more than 90% of the K-12 student body participates in sculpture, painting, drawing, photography, film, theater arts, technical theater, chorus, orchestra, band, jazz ensemble, or dance classes, with applied lessons offered for 14 instruments and voice. Students can take to the stage in the 650-seat Hendrix-Chenault Theater, and showcase their work at art exhibits and competitions.
Known for a program designed to inspire a natural love of learning, The Galloway School integrates the visual arts, dance, drama, and music across disciplines at every grade level. For more in-depth involvement, students can choose from a number of electives and participate in the Art Club, The Galloway Theatre Ensemble, Tech Crew, Band, Orchestra, Guitar Ensemble or Chorus. Participation in most groups requires no experience and is on a “no cut” basis.
The DeKalb School of the Arts in Avondale Estates is part of the DeKalb County School District. Its academically rigorous program for grades 8-12 includes vocal and instrumental music, drama, dance, visual arts, creative writing, video technology and multimedia production. Admission to the school is highly competitive.
North Springs Charter High School in Roswell is the only Georgia magnet school for visual and performing arts as well as science and math. Admission is open to all Fulton County residents in grades 9-12; non-residents are admitted on a fee-paying basis when space permits. The program features concentrations in vocal and instrumental music, drama, visual arts, graphic design, audio-video (AV) tech and film, and web design.
As the visual arts have gone beyond canvas and clay, Atlanta-area schools kept pace. At North Springs, career concentrations are offered in graphic design, web design and AV technology and film. DeKalb School of the Arts students have shot public service announcements (PSAs) for the public library.
Creative Career Academy in Roswell offers an off-campus alternative for study in the visual arts, with classes offered both at the school and online for youth ages 8-18 with courses in such skills as fashion illustration and graphic design as well as traditional painting and sculpture. Their C-Fuse program combines academic disciplines and a series of applied skills courses: literature with filmmaking, sciences and animation, and math and video game design.
Finding the right arts program for your child takes diligence, but the results are more than worthwhile. Besides its academic benefits, arts experience enables young people to appreciate our shared cultural heritage and opens the door to a richer, more rewarding life. Dr. Hensley expresses it enthusiastically: “…the fine arts grow wholeness, mental well-being, joy, and humanity.