Not too many years ago, the arts were being de-emphasized in our schools as a response to pressure for higher test scores dictated by well-intentioned policies such as the No Child Left Behind Act. Fortunately, the pendulum has begun to swing back, as much of the education establishment has rediscovered the benefits of the arts in education.
Nevertheless, our schools continue to operate in an environment of limited financial resources, so it is fortunate that there are other organizations that can partner with our schools in providing access to the arts as a critical component of our children’s education. The North Carolina Theatre is one such organization.
One program offered by the theatre’s conservatory, Page2Stage, allows students an opportunity to transform a work of literature into a dramatic production. An old Chinese proverb states, “I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand,” and in fact recent studies have shown that such programs, in which an art and non-art subject are taught in tandem, engage students and increase learning and achievement.
Programs like Page2Stage increase reading readiness and word fluency in early grades and continue to improve reading comprehension and writing skills throughout middle and high school. Though all students benefit, the program is particularly effective for English language learners and students from low-income backgrounds.
Martin Luther King once stated that intelligence plus character was the goal of true education. There has always been a strong consensus that all of our institutions should teach our children certain universal values (honesty, respect for others, sharing), and polls show that today over 85 percent of parents agree that values should be taught in our schools. Through its Theatre4Change program, NCT provides in school programming dealing with topics such as conflict resolution, bullying and substance abuse. Students observe professional performances and also engage in group discussion and role playing, all designed to heighten student awareness and encourage character development.
And of course at its most basic level, NCT can provide cultural opportunities that might not otherwise be available to our children. For example, through its Sound of Freedom program, professional musicians go into our schools and perform a program of music and historical narrative explaining the role of music in African-American history.
A well-rounded education will prepare our kids to thrive as adults in a complex world. As we continue to focus on improving our schools, let’s not forget the role that the arts, and local arts organizations, play in educating our children.
George DeLoache of Raleigh is a board member of the North Carolina Theatre.