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Schools Cannot Afford Not To Have the Fine Arts

Susan Notes: How rare it is to see someone speaking up for the arts in public schools.

With limited school budgets and high-stakes testing, you may hear people ask, "Can we afford fine arts in our schools?"

Tucson Unified School District asked a different question: "Can we afford not to have fine arts in our schools?"

Tucson has answered the question with Opening Minds to the Arts, a program representing creative investment in fine-arts education. It's an investment that's paying off with higher student academic achievement.

Fine Arts Director Joan Ashcraft said OMA was developed in response to what we know kids need to learn, the Arizona Academic Standards, and about how kids learn, through active and engaging experiences.

In OMA schools, professional string quartets and woodwind trios are partnering with teachers and music specialists to help kindergartners develop and enhance auditory skills, an essential foundation for learning to read.

First- through sixth-graders continue to develop language, literacy, collaboration and critical-thinking skills. Their teachers, along with instrumentalists, opera students and dance specialists from the community, bring the fine arts into the classroom.

Every third- and fourth-grader learns to play recorders and violins and compose music. Fifth- and sixth-graders research, create and perform original works for the stage, in addition to continuing to play an instrument in the band or orchestra.

Tucson Unified tested the program at four elementary schools and placed bets on higher academic achievement. WestEd, a non-profit research, development, and service agency, is proving them right.

"During its first two years, the OMA project made significant progress, helping students who are at academic risk to succeed," said a WestEd report, which outlined gains in student SAT 9 scores in reading, language, and mathematics. Language scores were 30 percent higher overall and 55 percent higher for Latinos. The report documented increased teacher effectiveness, better student attendance and fewer discipline referrals.

Learn more at www.omaproject.org Carol Peck is president and chief executive officer of the Rodel Charitable Foundation of Arizona. She is former superintendent of the Alhambra Elementary School District. Sent your questions and ideas to her at rodel@rodelfoundations.org.

— Carol Peck,
Arizona Republic


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