12/13/2009: "Superintendent’s Corner"
By Walt Wegener
Among the most powerful expressions of every culture, the arts provide insight into every historical period through literature, visual arts, music, dance and drama. Today’s citizen must not only learn to appreciate the arts as a view into the story of humankind, but must have rich opportunities to actively participate in creative experience.
The Fine Arts programs in the San Juan Island Public Schools are alive and well! I hope you had the opportunity to attend the Winter Band Concerts last week. And, don’t miss an opportunity to look at the walls in the high school to see the art work being done by the students there and proudly displayed. And, be sure to attend the high school’s production of Peter Pan, coming to a theater near you.
At least one of the avenues for memory-making is in the arts. And, at least one of the major ways to express ourselves is in the arts. The arts represent both a learning style and a method for expression of learning.
In addition to readin’, ‘ritin’ ‘n ‘rithmetic, our students are required to have health and fitness, social studies, career and technology, science and fine art credits to graduate from school. When they enter into the job market these are cultural and future focused life-skills deemed valuable, nay, necessary for them to thrive.
To encourage acceptance of diversity we recognize the arts are languages that most people speak, across all cultures, education and background. This language allows us all to work and play well together, a significant personal future skill for every person. True especially for our own children in whom we hold a special desire for success. Indeed, the arts can bring every subject to life and allow learning and expression beyond formulas, essays and career plans.
As a parent I learned the “feeling-tone” of a thing was as important to my daughters as the reality of it. Experienced educators have come to know that the feeling-tone zone, the realm of comfort and expectation, is as powerful as the realm of details and statistics. The key element for all brains when it is time to “make a memory” is the emotional value about to be entered into the student’s memory places.
The arts touch that emotional area and impact actual learning and motivation strongly. For many students, touching, moving and performing are the strongest skill-set they bring by nature to any school assignment. For these students, the arts are most important to their learning and understanding. As parents we want to encourage and support the arts for our kids. They have a need of the learning experience provided by fine arts.
As parents we are our children’s first and most powerful teachers. The actual art-of-learning, and teaching-to-support-learning, is to arrange the right conditions and challenges engaging the learner.
The arts provide students a robust and caring reason to use their whole brain, taking advantage of and developing all the avenues they have to enhance their appreciation for their surroundings. The arts form the foundation for expanded learning methods providing direct links to feelings and the mind, so memory is made.
It is known that inclusion, personalization and production of items of art and opportunities to perform provide direction and motivation for all populations. Once again, to include special populations in our system by instruction with an eye to inclusion for each skill level, we should always keep in mind that students join into the arts whether they have limitations of learning, are language learners or have behavioral complexities.
One final point before ending: the neuro-micro-architecture (say that three times fast) of all persons begins before birth and continues for decades. Thus, it follows, the arts need to start before entering formal school and continue well past. It is very important for families to use the arts providing support for students to develop an “intellectual persona,” as much as is possible in order to enhance well-being in our complex world.
Be sure to support fine arts education at every level of the educational system. People respond in very powerful and positive ways to the environment in which they are placed. Consider the difference between a museum and a gang-tagged street. That stark contrast exemplifies the affective reality of the importance of the arts in school. Be sure your child joins music, drama and/or art classes, it’s good for them, you, and us.
(Walt Wegener is the San Juan Island School District Superintendent of Schools)