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8:47 am
Mon December 3, 2012

reWorking Michigan: Teacher Development Critical to Solid Arts Education

On Tuesday, arts educators will come to Michigan State University for an annual breakfast meeting at the Wharton Center. 

Dance instructor Heather Vaughn-Southard (right) leads third-grade students through an exercise at Pleasant View Visual and Performing Arts Magnet School in Lansing.
Credit Kevin Lavery / WKAR

On Tuesday, arts educators will come to Michigan State University for an annual breakfast meeting at the Wharton Center.  The purpose is to share ideas about how best to train teachers to integrate the arts into their everyday classes.

An educational report released in September found that nearly 108,000 Michigan students in grades K-12 have no access to an arts curriculum.  This is despite the fact that the state mandates arts credit as a graduation requirement.

The report commissioned by the state and the non-profit group Michigan Youth Arts questioned schools representing more than 460,000 students.  It revealed several key results.  One finding showed that high schools tend to spend more than twice as much per pupil per year on arts curriculum than elementary schools.  But the most striking statistic is that 108,000 Michigan students receive no form of arts education at all.

“When I see a number like that, 108,000, it’s really shocking and it’s sad that we can’t reach out to that,” says Bert Goldstein.  He directs the Michigan State University Federal Credit Union Institute for Arts and Creativity at the Wharton Center in East Lansing.  He says the basic underlying problem is money.  Goldstein has been an arts advocate 30 years…but he says never has he seen Michigan’s funding climate as dire as it is now. 

But the institute has other connections beyond the state.  Goldstein says through its  partnership with the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, his organization provides a lot of teacher in-service training to keep the arts alive in the classroom.

“So, you know, we lobby and we advocate and we talk to people, and it’s always an uphill battle,” Goldstein says.  “But what I’ve noticed is we keep getting superintendents and principals coming who say, you know what?  This is important, and we’re going to try to make room for it.”

"We lobby and we advocate and we talk to people, and it's always an uphill battle. But what I've noticed is that we keep getting superintendents and principals coming who say, you know what? This is important, and we're going to try to make room for it." - Bert Goldstein

The room is full at Pleasant View Visual and Performing Arts Magnet School in south Lansing.  Full of attentive third-graders focused on their dance teacher, Heather Vaughn-Southard, as she puts them through their paces.

Pleasant View is one of several area schools that benefits from close ties with the Institute for Arts and Creativity.  Principal Madeline Shanahan acknowledges the school district’s ongoing funding crunch, but is thankful for the resources she has.

“It is challenging, but we are fortunate in that the district still provides us a few extra teachers, an art teacher and a full-time dance instructor,” Shanahan explains.  “In addition to that, we sometimes get donations from outside sources.  We beg, borrow and steal to purchase costuming and scenery and those kinds of things.”

Shanahan tries to give her staff as many professional development opportunities as possible.  The teachers are grouped into curriculum teams, and Shanahan says many often collaborate on their own time to make sure they’re integrating fine arts concepts into core subjects.  Educators realized long ago that there are patterns that flow between disciplines; for example, the inherent mathematical nature of music and rhythm. 

Still, Shanahan admits it’s difficult to quantify the positive effects of an arts-based education.

“It’s hard, I think, to measure concretely what the arts does for people,” she says.  “But I think we firmly believe in this building that it does something to your heart and your soul, and hopefully that will translate to the greater humanity at large.”

Pleasant View’s assistant principal, Boku Hendrickson, agrees.  He sees the arts as key to shaping a person’s worldview.

“Everything in your life revolves around the arts, as far as what you select to wear, what color car you pick, what appliances, the design of your house,” Hendrickson says.  “It’s what Ms. Shanahan said about your soul.”

Arts funding for elementary and secondary education remain tight.  Still, arts advocates praise Governor Rick Snyder’s decision to increase funding for the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.  They’re hopeful more money will trickle its way back into public education once the new state legislative session begins next month.

In the meantime, the Michigan State Board of Education will formally review the recommendations of the Michigan Youth Arts report next week.   

reWorking Michigan examines our evolving economy, as the people of the Great Lake State explore new ways to make a living and build a future.  A project of the WKAR Newsroom, WKAR-TV and WKAR Online.

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