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I decided on this topic after reflecting on the beginning of my own elementary educational journey. I enjoy music (all kinds), art and museums and theatre. I remember that the experiences were part of our Library Club program. I am from a small town in the south and was in elementary school during the civil rights movement. Remembering those experiences makes my days of elementary school, Jr. high and high school stand out. So, I thought if the fine arts program helped me discover pleasant memories during my schooling, how would it affect others’ educational experience. During my research, I discovered fine arts affected, test scores, attendance, participation, and discipline in rural schools.
According to Eaton, the arts should be considered part of the basic content of any school curriculum. (Eaton, Living, learning and the arts: integrating arts into the curriculum in rural schools. October 9-11, 1985) The arts contribute to the freedom a student may experience in presenting the application of concepts that were taught. Whereas a student may not be able to write an explanation of how he/she came to a certain solution, the arts would allow the student the freedom to use a creative yet informative presentation. They must first be exposed to these types of experiences. With most rural schools being in remote areas, the access to museums, theatres, and symphonic music would be a stretch for the schools to obtain the finances needed to allow the students to enjoy these experiences. The use of the arts has been tried in rural schools to measure their effect, if any, they may have had on the students. In a study done by Livingston-Steuben-Wyoming Board of Cooperative Educational Services, there was a marked improvement in the behavior of the students involved with the project as opposed to those that were not. (A coordinated fine arts program in a rural setting: final project report. Livingston-Steuben-Wyoming Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Leicester, NY)The program included art, drama, dance, and music.
These were the elements measured with pre and posttests responses from students. The thing about school budgets is that whenever they are tight the arts are the subjects to get cut. If ballet help improves football players performance on the field during a game, why can’t the same logic be placed on the arts for students that may be struggling or even those that are gifted?Some may look at the arts as just part of the gap between rural and urban schools. I prefer to think of it as another form of lack of equity. As I’ve stated before, this type of program was how I was introduced to the arts. I would like to think it made me a better person with a wider perspective of our world. I couldn’t afford the minimal fee but a teacher paid it for me. I tell my personal and school children they should attend those three types of events. It helps you to see the world in a different light. We have empirical evidence that the arts improve behavior, but I still needed to find out about the other aspects of the educational experience. With more research, I found that Garcia did a study on the effect the arts had on reading and math achievement as measured by the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test. The students included third through eighth graders in a small, rural school district.
The results were that the students involved with the levels of fine arts from 2007-2010 improved. The reading level for all students improved but especially reading and math for Hispanic and economically disadvantaged populations. (Garcia. Comparing state-mandated test scores for students in programs with and without fine arts in the curriculum. 2010. )Another fine art enrichment program, reported by Hulick, working with the Southern Rural Education Association and West Texas A&M University found five statistically significant findings among rural public schools. The data showed significant improvement in attendance, mathematics, reading, science, and writing. The program’s acronym is WOWW, a window on a wider world. (Hulick, ED. Southern Rural Education Association Journal. 1990. )
These findings are not limited to our modern 20th century, as early as 1930-1940 King Carol II of Rumania and pretty much a failure in his administration made sure the cultural activities were available to all of his subjects. (Quinlan. King Carol II: Patron of the Arts? 1983. )Howard and Patricia Brahmstedt wrote about a creative way that Middle Tennessee came up with to make sure the arts were off the chopping block. The impact seen on several middle Tennessee schools was significant. The English classes may be discussing Shakespeare’s love sonnets, in the machine shop class students listen to a black operatic baritone sing Italian opera and German lieder. These are all activities found in rural schools of Middle Tennessee. (Brahmstedt, Arts enrichment programs in Middle Tennessee rural schools. 1990. )
The schools are part of a consortium organization within Tennessee Tech University. We have talked about the usefulness of collaboratives to achieve goals, that is exactly what happened with the program began by TTU Consortium. This started with the teachers of the university students teaching K-8 grades, along with student teachers helping one day per teacher per week. The mindset is shifting for the Upper Cumberland area of Middle Tennessee. The program has expanded to include a band, theatre ensemble and budget funding through the school board for a full-time music teacher. (Brahmstedt, 1990)In regular classes there is differentiated instruction, so it is with the fine arts program in northwest Wisconsin. The gifted students meet weekly in combined classes. They receive instruction from local artists. Though the methods are nontraditional, the students get to interact with peers on the same level and collaborate. (Johnson. Fine arts consortium for rural elementary students. 2001. )
The cost and expertise are shared by the districts. With all of the research-based evidence, why are the arts thought to be insignificant to school curriculums?The rural students of Tennessee are receiving a first-class education in the arts, classes are sometimes taught by professional artists and musicians. The property taxes collected in these rural areas are not any more than those collected in most rural areas; the difference is that the people of this area found out what helped all their students and made it available. It is not ever easy to find money for necessities in education but if there are enough like-minded individuals who are willing to sacrifice time, connections, networking, and brainstorming the end product is what is seen through TTU Consortium, WOWW, fine arts included just like other subjects in the curriculum. Will fine arts make a difference to rural students’ educational experience?
The answer is a resounding yes. These students are now exposed to other possible avenues to better themselves and their community. Schools need to take a lesson from these rural schools that have made the inclusion of the arts in their curriculum a reality. Just as we study other countries’ methods for teaching, making a different type of educational plan, and curriculums, we need to start with what is working in our rural schools. If it can work with those that have the least access how would it change our schools’ environment and atmosphere if all students had this chance?
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