Commentary: Jefferson Co. board member celebrates National Arts in Education Week, seeks more support to create arts-related opportunities for all students

Courier-Journal, Louisville, Sept. 19, 2016

Op-Ed
Arts education is reason to celebrate
by Diane Porter, Guest Contributor

September is an exciting time for students, parents, teachers and board members in the Jefferson County Public Schools district. It is a time when you can see learning taking place every day in every classroom.

This month is also a special time for our schools because, in 2010, Congress designated this week as National Arts in Education Week. This is a time to celebrate the transformative power of the arts in education. We are celebrating here at JCPS and would encourage you to celebrate with us.

As a member of the JCPS Board of Education, I am privileged to represent our district’s performing arts schools. JCPS has designated elementary, middle and high schools that are specifically available for students with talent and interest in the visual and performing arts. JCPS also offers enriching arts opportunities from drama to visual arts and band to orchestra at all of our schools because we know that arts education enriches learning.

In fact, as our board embarked on its journey to create a new strategic plan for the district, arts in education was woven into the fabric of that plan. Vision 2020 incorporates the ideas and values of students, parents, and teachers, as well as business and community leaders who care deeply about the future of public education in Jefferson County and its skilled workforce.

One of the core values outlined in Vision 2020 is creativity. We know that the ability to create, innovate and solve challenging problems are all critical skills for our students to develop and learn. Those skills are taught, enhanced and enriched when arts curriculum is available within our schools.

As a retired educator, I am always inspired when I visit a classroom and see a teacher singing and dancing when teaching reading or having students play percussion instruments while reading poetry. This rhythm of learning ties lessons together for students. You can feel the energy in these classrooms and the students are inspired and motivated to learn. Research shows that students who participate in arts learning experiences score better on tests, earn higher grade point averages and demonstrate increased collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving.

In JCPS, we have tremendously talented teachers who engage and inspire our students, but we cannot do it alone. Our community arts partners through the Fund for The Arts make opportunities possible for our students: stage productions, string instruments, and watching ballet dancers twirl across the stage or holding their breath as an opera singer’s voice soars. Those performances open a world of possibilities for our students.

This week, I was fortunate to host our September board meeting at Lincoln Performing Arts School, our elementary performing arts magnet school. At each of our off-site board meetings, our students perform for the community and our board. It is always my favorite part of the board meeting. When you see our tiniest students engaged in the arts and performing intricate pieces of music with precision -- it is inspiring and gratifying to see the opportunities we have available in our schools and in our community.

As we celebrate National Arts in Education Week, we should celebrate and acknowledge our accomplishments, but we must also remember the work we have to do. How can our district help provide equitable opportunities for all of our young people? How can we support parents, families and the community in providing more opportunities for engagement? It’s up to us – the arts education community – to take a stand and lead.

I look forward to working with you to increase opportunities for all of our students.

Diane Porter has been on the JCPS board since 2010 and also serves on the Fund for the Arts board. She has nearly 40 years of experience in education, including as a teacher, guidance counselor, assistant principal, principal, and central office administrator.

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