Saving the Arts in My Hometown

My hometown (Escanaba, MI) schoolboard voted last night to “integrate” the K-3 art program into the classroom.  They also voted to eliminate several positions in the district.  My K-3 grade art education was far from spectacular but it made me strive for more, I wanted to learn because I enjoyed painting during art class in first and second grade.  My grade school art education made me who I am today as an artist.  That is why I feel obligated to help my friends in Escanaba fight for their children’s art education for all grade levels.

This is the letter I sent in response to the School Board’s “form letter” that was sent via email.

 

Thank you for your letter, and I would like to highlight some foreseeable issues that will ensue with the board’s decision.

Art education is specific field of study which was created to ensure all students receive proper instruction on techniques, care, and age appropriateness of materials are used in the classroom. I can assure you not everyone can hold a paint brush correctly, how to clean brushes properly, how to mix paint, or what paint should be used in a K-3 classroom. An art teacher knows this, because this is what they went to school for. It is the art teacher’s job to ensure the safety of his/her students when creating in the classroom.

Classroom budgets are tight. Teachers are asking for paper, pencils, glue sticks, and Kleenex. Where is the money going to come from to establish actual art integration in the classroom? This is not an easy alternative to your budget woes, as art supplies are far from cheap. You will now have to supply at least 4 classrooms with the necessary supplies at all the schools in Escanaba, as opposed to one classroom set of Cray-Pas, Watercolors, crayons, etc. that was shared between the whole school in the art room or on the art cart. This also does not include kiln access, and other pottery techniques. How many of the elementary school teachers know how to work a kiln safely?

The board has asked non-art teachers to incorporate art into their lesson plans and curriculum for the next school year. Most teachers already have their lesson plans and curricula finished for the next school year. They have been working on them for months, and you have asked them to add a whole new subject on short notice. When you get your elementary education degree, you are not required to take an art class. You are asking people who have not had an art class since high school or sometimes even elementary school to create a program that will teach history, teach about a medium, proper usage and care of all materials and supplies, and they won’t know how to do it themselves. Another point I would like to make is classroom time is valuable. It is hard to get 20-30 kids to listen, to stay on task. The students don’t always finish everything, so if the teacher cuts out certain activities, the first activity to go will be art because it will be looked upon as a chore, with more prep time, more cleanup, more time for the teacher.

I invite the school board to read pages 85-92 of the Michigan Standards, Benchmarks, and Grade Level Content Expectations for Visual Arts, Music, Dance, and Theater:  http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/Complete_VPAA_Expectations_June_2011_356110_7.pdf

This is what an art teacher does to ensure her students get the most out of the art education. Elementary classroom teachers are going to have another set of benchmarks to achieve in the classroom with very little time to achieve this. Planning art lesson plans is not an easy task, especially with little or no budget. I appreciate the budget woes of your district, but the ramifications of this decision do not bode well for Escanaba. People will go elsewhere to guarantee a well rounded education for their children, especially when neighboring cities and districts are offering a full art program for all grades.

 

 

I hope the Escanaba School Board will reconsider this drastic change to their school district.  I feel very strongly about the arts and will do what ever I can to save it in the Public School System.  Art should be available to every student K-12 because if it changes you will have third graders doing art a Kindergarten level because they don’t know the basics.

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