Opinion: We must continue to support the arts in schools

Sperling is director of Visual and Performing Arts for San Diego Unified School District and lives in University Heights. Bailey is VAPA Foundation board chair and lives in Mission Hills. Bazzo is a member of the San Diego Unified School District board and lives in Mira Mesa.

Last November, California voters approved Proposition 28, a measure that would provide significant new resources to arts education in public schools. With 64 percent support, it was a massive win for the arts community to know that Californians recognize the value of these essential programs that are often first to be cut when schools face budget issues.

Although the funds are a historic start to expanding Visual and Performing Arts programs, the numbers are spread thinly. San Diego Unified is the second largest school district in the state, and with 181 schools, there is much to support. The need for more art teachers within the district has been met, but the expansion leads to a bigger gap between what the budget can fund and the supplies that are necessary for the classrooms.

Eighty percent of Proposition 28’s funding goes towards personnel, leaving little room for the various demands across all the disciplines. Art supplies, stage equipment, sound equipment, musical instruments, and ways to exhibit and show the results of students’ hard work are all still needed and underfunded. Smaller schools in the district may only have enough funding for just one arts discipline, and many may not even see the benefits this school year.

The movement to expand arts education is driven by the many benefits these courses can offer. The arts provide a creative outlet that reduces stress, promotes emotional development and encourages students to think outside the box. A creative space can help students feel empowered and find their voice, leading them to step out of their comfort zone and build confidence. Expression through art allows students to develop a deeper understanding of emotions and empathy. With a stronger sense of self and emotional intelligence, this helps students build their communication skills. This, along with an increased sense of cultural awareness, guides youth to build a more inclusive and compassionate society.

It goes beyond self-expression — students exposed to arts have shown an increase in academic standing as well. Students who take four years of arts and music classes score an average of 150 points higher on the SAT than students who take only one-half year or less. Studies have also shown links between art and memorization, critical thinking and psychological well-being.

Arts education has been shown to benefit children and teenagers in underserved communities. A 2012 National Endowment for the Arts report shows that high school students with a low socioeconomic background who earned few or no arts credits were five times more likely not to have graduated than those who earned many arts credits. The study also shows that low-income students who are highly engaged in the arts are twice as likely to graduate college as their peers with no arts education. Before the proposition, only one in five public schools in California had a full-time art or music program. It is absolutely essential that we keep pushing for more access to make even more significant changes.

The Visual and Performing Arts or VAPA Foundation plays an immense role in the development of students and is proven to have transformative effects. San Diego Unified data shows that when art teachers show up to schools, attendance rates also increase. These are the courses that bring children to schools; they create settings where students can engage with themselves and other students in ways that they may not be able to in other courses.

The VAPA Foundation works to raise funds to increase access to the arts outside of the school’s budget. The funds raised go towards unique enhancing experiences in the classroom, new supplies, collaborations with local art organizations, and creating opportunities for students to perform and display their work. These efforts alone impact thousands of students and bring more art to the entire community, not just schools.

Proposition 28 is only the start of creating a more colorful world and school system, and there is more work to be done. Art programs have faced a long-standing neglect that will take years to catch up with other disciplines. Individual funding for the expansion and growth of students, teachers and programs is still a required necessity. While these funds are significant, it comes with strings attached that make the need for VAPA Foundation more relevant than ever.

With the community’s support, we can help bring more art inside and outside of the classroom and create a space where students can foster their creativity, enhance their cultural awareness and transform our world.

The VAPA Foundation’s mission is to increase access to and enhance the quality of arts education in the San Diego Unified School District.

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