Chapel Hill: Opinion

Tom Forcella: Arts essential to well-rounded education

Somewhere along the way, very early in my childhood, I developed the impression that I was not born with artistic abilities. I mistakenly decided that artistic endeavors were not for me.

To be fair, I do not recall being told that by a teacher or any other adult influence. I guess I just looked at the work produced by my peers, compared it to my own, and decided I should stick to other pursuits.

While a lifetime of hindsight regrets that I allowed such negative thinking to influence my decision-making, I am pleased to report that it never smothered my appreciation for the arts. In fact, to this day, I frequently find myself in awe of those who have pursued their artistic passions and produce results that leave us speechless.

Furthermore, I have come to appreciate the importance of arts as a necessary component of life – and I never want a child to feel excluded from this arena based on perceived levels of talent or access to quality instruction in the arts.

You see, there is no such thing as a well-rounded education without the arts. Student growth and development is dependent upon a comprehensive arts experience. Through the arts, students have opportunities to develop cognitively, physically, socially and emotionally. Increasingly, the arts are recognized for developing the 21st century skills of critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration.

A growing body of research supports the importance of the arts in a balanced education, including a significant connection between study in the arts and literacy development, mathematics achievement, and overall academic achievement.

There is also some evidence that the arts play a role in eliminating the achievement gap between subgroups of students. Underserved populations, including students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds, English language learners and students with special needs, show the greatest improvement when involved in the arts.

Regarding personal outcomes, involvement in the arts is linked to engagement, persistence, positive behavior, self-expression and self-confidence. Additionally, students who study the arts in school are more likely to be engaged in the arts as adults. They develop greater abilities to work as a team, a sense of civic engagement, cross-cultural understanding and promote social development.

Spring is a time to remember the arts. In March we celebrated Music in Our Schools Month, sponsored by the National Association for Music Education, and Youth Art Month, sponsored by the National Art Education Association.

The arts are thriving in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. During the month of March, opportunities to participate in the arts occurred on every day of the month. A few highlights included the City Wide Orchestra (which involved students from all four middle schools with a special guest performance by CHCCS administrators and board members playing percussion), theatrical and musical performances at all grade levels, elementary school field trips to see the North Carolina Symphony in Raleigh, a music performance adjudication festival for band and orchestra students, local art exhibits (State Employee’s Credit Union, Chapel Hill Library, Weaver Street Market), and artist residencies at Scroggs Elementary, Glenwood Elementary, and Carrboro High where students worked with artists to create public works of art.

April promises a much anticipated event: the Visions Art Show, running April 13-15 at Lincoln Center. This annual event includes artwork from students in all of our elementary, middle, and high schools. Art will be exhibited in the Lincoln Center from April 9-May 23. The public is welcome to stop by and enjoy the student work.

May brings a flurry of end-of-year performances from many of our schools, including a wide variety from musical theater, drama, band, orchestra, choir, jazz band, and Orff ensemble. The spring season includes almost five dozen performing arts performances across the district.

I want to encourage you to spend an evening at one of our performances. See for yourself the remarkable role of the arts in our children’s educational experience. Prepare to be amazed!

Tom Forcella is the superintendent of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.