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Opinion: Arts programs are essential to education

The Democratic slate of Board of Education candidates: From left, Board member Heidi Keyes, seeking a third term, Common Council member Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large), Barbara Meyer Mitchell and Sarah Lemieux.

The election is Nov. 7.

Sarah LeMieux, Bruce Kimmel, Barbara Meyer-Mitchell, and Heidi Keyes, Democratic Board of Education candidates, say this is the “second in a series of pieces describing their position on several issues of importance to us and the Norwalk Public Schools. More information about our platform can be found at www.norwalkexcels.com.”

Superintendent Steven Adamowski and the Board of Education have set an admirable goal in their strategic plan: raise the bar and close the gap. We wholeheartedly support that goal and, should we be elected this November, will work hard with our Board colleagues to achieve it.

Raising the bar requires an up-to-date, rigorous curriculum and high expectations for all students. Closing the gap requires decreasing the disparity in educational achievement between children from different social and economic backgrounds. The progress made toward this goal in just the past few years is significant, and deserves celebration. One-third of Norwalk’s achievement gap in English Language Arts and Math has been closed, according to the latest Connecticut Smart Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test results. 

Positive trends in the Norwalk Public Schools show more students reading and doing math at grade level than ever before. Sixty three percent of our students in grades K – 11 made one year’s growth or more in these areas — exceeding national norms. Our Norwalk Early College Academy program will have its first graduating class in June, where many will have earned their two year associate’s degree. Norwalk’s English Language learners outperform their peers statewide in every area, and our four-year graduation rate of 90.5 percent beat the Connecticut state average for the second year in a row — but math and literacy aren’t the only gaps Norwalk’s kids are facing. Another component of raising achievement, access and opportunity requires turning our attention to revitalizing other areas of the school curriculum.

We often hear people say that students should have access to the arts, but only after we’ve addressed other problems, such as reading and math scores on standardized tests. A growing body of evidence suggests that comprehensive arts programs, especially when they are integrated into the overall curriculum, actually lead to improvements in core academic subjects. Although sometimes perceived as less important than core academics, arts education gives children engaging opportunities to build skills in creative problem solving, collaboration, active listening and observation, and sequencing These skills cross over to other academic subjects. While we can’t predict what careers or technology will be available to our kids in the future, we can say with certainty that these skills will be valuable.

Even now, tech companies are looking beyond graduates of strict STEM disciplines to hire candidates with backgrounds in the arts and humanities. A recent LinkedIn study investigated this trend, finding that candidates with backgrounds in the arts are valued for their “diversity of skills and flexible critical thinking.” Not only for their future careers, but for the development of the whole child and a fulfilling life, giving every student an area in which to shine is highly important, whether that child is talented in sports, academics, or the arts. Success and self-esteem building in one area can develop confidence and motivation in all areas.

Norwalk has a well-deserved reputation for its music programming. Norwalk High School’s Winter Percussion and Winter Guard are award-winning, and its marching band is nationally recognized. Our elementary and middle school string orchestras and our Artistically Talented program not only provide children with the opportunity for joyful self-expression, but also build quantifiable skills for college and career preparation. We can build upon these offerings, while providing teachers the opportunities and resources they need to integrate arts into the current curriculum.

Children at local independent schools and in neighboring districts like Westport, Greenwich, Fairfield and Darien have the advantage of access to robust offerings in the arts, which not only benefits those children, but contributes to the positive perception of those schools and districts. All Norwalk’s students deserve the same opportunities, and it doesn’t have to break the bank. Bridgeport’s Roosevelt School, a PreK-8 school, was chosen as part of the Obama administration’s “Turnaround Arts” initiative.  In 2011, the “Turnaround” initiative used what’s called “arts integration” as a key strategy to reform eight of the nation’s most challenged schools, including Roosevelt. So far, the results have been highly promising. And to repeat: It doesn’t have to be expensive. At our own Columbus Magnet School, arts are integrated into the entire curriculum. Children sing, dance, act and draw about what they’re learning.

Should we be elected, we will work to ensure that every student in the Norwalk school system is provided with access to quality arts education.

6 comments

Josh Ornstein September 27, 2017 at 7:06 am

I’m interested in how many kids each of these people has in the Norwalk system. I don’t think someone without kids currently attending Norwalk Schools should be on the BOE

Susan Wallerstein September 27, 2017 at 8:06 am

@Joshornstein. I find your position misguided at best and offensive to those of us whose children attended Norwalk Public Schools, who continue to champion the school system, who volunteer with young people who attend Norwalk schools, and who pay taxes which support public education. Always important to have current parents on the BOE but not a prerequisite for service. (Others can advise whether all of these candidates except Mr. Kimmel currently have children attending Norwalk schools.)

Sarah LeMieux September 27, 2017 at 8:08 am

Hi Josh,

I have three kids currently in Norwalk Public Schools, Barbara has two, and Heidi has three who went through/are currently in NPS. Bruce’s son went through NPS, and he has previously served as head of the Cranbury PTO.

Thanks for asking!

Sarah LeMieux

Barbara Meyer-Mitchell September 27, 2017 at 9:42 am

Good morning, Josh. Heidi Keyes, Sarah Lemieux and I all have multiple kids in Norwalk Public schools bridging from Kindergarten to High School. But I would like to point out that Bruce Kimmel brings a vast amount of invaluable city governance experience to the team, due to his long service to Norwalk. Feel free to check out our website for more information: http://www.norwalkexcels.com. Also, come check out the Norwalk Parents for Education Facebook page, where you can check out and participate in some parent advocacy for our schools. Have a lovely day, Barbara

Elsa Peterson Obuchowski September 27, 2017 at 10:06 am

A kid-friendly arts event is coming up this weekend: the ART FREE-FOR-ALL at Oak Hills Park, Saturday 9/30 3-5 PM (rain date Sunday 10/1 3-5 PM). Combining nature and the arts — what could be better for the mind and the soul?

Create your own drawing, poem, photos, other works of art inspired by nature. Basic art supplies will be provided, or bring your own. Norwalk’s Poet Laureate will contribute prompts for haiku and other poetry writing, and yoga practitioner Audrey Cozzarin will lead body movement sessions. Walk the trails and see what inspires you!

We’ll display drawings, poems, and other art outdoors on a “clothesline” among the trees; and post photos on Instagram at #OakHillsParkTrail

To RSVP, visit https://www.facebook.com/Oakhillspark/ and click on “Events.”

Donald September 27, 2017 at 4:17 pm

People whatever you do, don’t vote for Kimmel. He is a pro union anti-taxpayer hack at any cost. Let’s not forget he and Mendez did the police unions bidding for overtime at dirt jobs. We could have had flagmen at 25 bucks and hour, but Kimmel and the other hacks pushed for cops at 65 plus an hour. What a waste.

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