Painting Our Kids a Brighter Future

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“A child’s first inspiration through the arts can be a life-changing experience.  One creative dance class can open a world of expression and communication.  Learning through the arts reinforces critical academic skills in reading, language arts and math, and provides students with the skills to creatively solve problems.” – Michelle Obama

The effect an art class has on a child can be phenomenal.

Andrew Bott, principal of Orchard Gardens, deserves a huge shout out as an example of inspired  leadership in prioritizing arts education in schools.

Orchard Gardens, a school in Roxbury, Massachusetts, once notorious for its low test scores and violence, has been completely transformed by Bott’s so-called “crazy idea” in the past three years. Once one of the worst schools in the area, Orchard Gardens has blossomed into one of the fastest-improving schools in the state. Previously embodying a prison-like atmosphere, the walls of Orchard Gardens are now purple, green, orange – bedecked with the students’ artwork.

What caused such a change in the school that had been known as the ‘drop-out factory’? Much to the initial surprise and apprehension of colleagues, Andrew Bott redirected all the money from security guards to art teachers.

And the results have been remarkable. Rates of violence have dropped and test scores are slowly picking up, as is the general contentment  and confidence of students.

Art plays a crucial role in child development, helping build skills in creativity, problem-solving, self-discipline, memory, learning and much more. According to Orchard Gardens student Keyvaughn Little,“There’s no one particular way of doing something, and art helps you see like that. So if you take that with you, and bring it on, it will actually help you see that in academics or anything else, there’s not one specific way you have to do something.”

We hope that Orchard Gardens serves as a model and a reminder for the nation. In times of dire budget cuts, funding for the arts is usually the first to go. In California, public schools offer a mere few percentage of their education points to fund arts education. And yet, research paper after research paper, article after article, real life story after real life story have proven the seemingly miraculous results of arts education. The arts provide a creative outlet for kids to express themselves that is a much healthier and safer alternative to violence. As former Attorney General Janet Reno notes, “Young people who are involved in making something beautiful today are less likely to turn to acts of violence and destruction tomorrow. The arts provide opportunities for youth from all backgrounds to do something positive and creative with their talents and their time. We all need to support the arts. In doing so, we are telling America’s youth that we believe in them and value what they can be.”

And that’s not the only perk of having an arts education. According to research done by the American for Arts organization, a child who participates in the arts for at least three hours on three days each week through at least one full year are:

  • Attend music, art, and dance classes nearly three times as frequently

  • Participate in youth groups nearly four times as frequently

  • Read for pleasure nearly twice as often

  • Perform community service more than four times as often

Furthermore, the arts are a crucial component in ‘leveling the playing field’, or closing the gap between the wealthy and the poor. Arts education – whether it is playing an instrument, rehearsing for a dance performance or creating a sketch – gives youth the chance to practice focus, perseverance and self-discipline. It also fosters self-confidence and personal fulfillment, skills that are under-developed in many at-risk youth.

More benefits of an arts education on the nation’s children can be found in a Pamphlet  from American For Hearts.

So the next time your children is complaining about not knowing what to do or needs a screen break, take out the crayons and let them draw and create something on the blank canvas paper. They’re creating more than the image of a scary dragon or a fairy princess, you know. Through that purple crayon they are doodling out a cornucopia of abilities for their futures.

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