Some say art in the classroom facilitates learning

The Hawai’i State Legislature enacted Act 80/99 in 1999 naming the Fine Arts as a core subject in Hawai’i. Since then, the No Child Left Behind federal legislation has turned the focus to reading and math. What is happening to the visual arts since the shift occurred?

“I firmly believe that in spite of the need to provide additional assistance for students in reading and math, we still need to provide what is developmentally appropriate for middle school children,” said Debra Badua, Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School principal.

At CKMS, art is an elective class offered to seventh- and eighth-grade students. The elective classes are an opportunity for student exploration, an important concept in middle level education.

Allison Ibara-Kawabe, state Department of Education art education specialist, said that Hawai’i schools are creative in keeping the balance between the NCLB requirements and art electives.

“Schools realize not all students are the same kind of learners,” Ibara-Kawabe said.

Ibara-Kawabe said there are two challenges facing middle schools regarding art elective courses. One is the new promotion policy and the other is the weighted student formula budgeting.

Board of Education policy 4502 states that in school year 2007 and 2008, all students in grades six, seven and eight must receive a passing grade and receive an academic unit for each core content course (language arts, mathematics, science and social studies) in order to be promoted to the next grade level.

Next school year, CKMS is including an “X-block” in its bell schedule.

“It is a vehicle for us to give students extra support for math and reading,” Badua said. “It is also a vehicle to offer an additional elective for those students who score in the ‘meets or exceeds’ proficiency levels for math and reading on the Hawai‘i state assessment.”

CKMS was able to take 15 minutes from each of their 90-minute block periods to create a 45-minute block period on four days of each five-day week.

Schools are allowed to create their bell schedules through consensus as long as the schedules meet the instructional minutes and other time requirements established by the teacher union contract.

The X-block will open up one more art class.

The weighted student formula is a way to allocate funds to schools based on student educational needs. The principal is responsible for developing an academic and financial plan through a collaborative process.

Badua said CKMS plans to survey their students this year to find out the types of elective courses students desire most. Whether they offer more or fewer art classes will depend on the outcome of the survey. In order to offer more art classes, however, another elective course may have to be reduced or eliminated.

“Art is one of the areas that students need an opportunity to explore, so we have always allocated one teaching position,” Badua said. “As long as students express an interest in the visual arts, we will attempt to have that course offering.”

Colleen Ogino teaches the art elective classes at CKMS. She said she feels like she is fighting a battle. Nationally, and locally, schools are losing their fine arts programs.

“NCLB is not considering the whole child,” Ogino said.

Ogino said she integrates language arts, math, science and social studies.

“There is lots of overlapping,” Ogino said. “I don’t teach in isolation.”

She has conversations with her team teachers and she asks if they integrate art into their core subjects. Some say they are not artists, and she tells them that they don’t have to be.

“The purpose is to appreciate art and to use art to expand knowledge,” Ogino said.

Each person has an area in which to excel that provides an avenue for growth. Ogino said it would be sad if students do not have that opportunity in art.

Ibara-Kawabe said that in the mid-90s there were art resource teachers, but with the restructuring of the district offices the number of resource teachers were reduced. With WSF, if schools want art resource teachers on the district or complex level, the schools would have to allocate funds.

Ibara-Kawabe said there is a lot of support and advocacy for the arts as awareness grows.

Arts First was legislated through Act 80/99. In 2001 Act 306/01 named the Arts First partners and mandated the implementation of the strategic plan called for in the previous legislation.

Marilyn Cristofori is the chief executive officer for the Hawai‘i Arts Alliance, one of the Arts First partners. The overall vision of Arts First is to provide quality arts education to every student.

“If we’re able to offer an arts-integrated program of quality in-depth to students, their scores go up in reading and math,” Cristofori said.

Cristofori said that in cases where they have been able to send a teaching artist into a classroom to work alongside a classroom teacher as part of the school day, the students do better.

In the elementary grades, students need to get a firm foundation in the arts. To that end, Arts First created an Essential Arts Toolkit that is aligned with the Hawai‘i content and performance standards. It integrates the arts into curriculum linked with the core subjects of language arts, math, science and social studies.

With a strong foundation, students can then concentrate and learn to increase their skills in one or two more specific areas in middle school. They would then be able to understand an art form more in depth in high school.

Cristofori said no public school student from Kaua‘i entered the recent congressional art competition.

“It’s disappointing,” said Carol Yotsuda, an Alliance board member from Kaua‘i who taught in public schools for 35 years. “But then, when you are a teacher what happens in the classroom is about learning, not about competition.”

She said that if the competition doesn’t fit in with what is being taught, participation becomes an extra job. There is extra cost and extra work involved in preparing for a competition.

Yotsuda said she entered student work in the congressional competition since its beginning. She even coordinated the program on Kaua‘i.

Since leaving the classroom, she has not been involved, so she cannot explain why there were no entries from public schools this year.

Yotsuda said the Alliance works well on O‘ahu, but it has little impact on what is being done on Kaua‘i.

“Geographically, we’re out of the mainstream,” she said.

She was one of the original teaching artists that developed lessons with teachers that now make up the Essential Arts toolkit.

There are workshops for teachers to become trained in the use of the toolkit that integrates art. These workshops are held on Maui. Last year, no teachers from Kaua‘i attended. Yotsuda hopes she can convince some to attend this year.

Yotsuda is a charter member of the Garden Island Art Council. She started the E Kanikapila Kakou program, Kaua‘i Crafts Studio and Van Go. She is currently the president and executive director of GIAC.

She brings artists in the visual and performing arts to Kaua‘i. In addition to shows for the public, she tries to arrange workshops conducted by these artists for schools.

“It’s so frustrating,” Yotsuda said. Schools don’t have the necessary funding, and even when she provides the funding, scheduling is a problem.

A group she brought in recently had their schedule coordinated with Kaua‘i Community College, but at a time when the public schools were on vacation. Sometimes Yotsuda has an artist who she thinks would be perfect for a particular teacher, but the teacher does not have the corresponding class when the artist is available.

There is also the problem of the “red tape” of permission and approval forms with public schools.

“I find it frustrating, and I shouldn’t because I’ve been in the DOE long enough to understand why these things happen,” Yotsuda said.

Yotsuda finds it equally frustrating to get artists to attend workshops that would hone their teaching skills.

Yotsuda said she brought two ceramic artists to Kaua‘i and offered workshops with them for free; whereas, in Honolulu each attendee would pay $180. The turnout was so poor that Yotsuda wondered if it was worth the artists’ time and program money.

Yotsuda’s Van Go program takes art into the various communities on Kaua‘i. The current project is Kahu ‘Aina (caretaker/ land). The theme of the project is “Hawai‘i’s Native, Indigenous and Cultural Flora.” She hopes the children will learn about native, indigenous and cultural plants and translate their learning into visual forms.

The program van, packed with supplies, lessons and artists, will be at different sites during May, June and July. At the end of each designated artwork session, children ages 5 through 18 may submit artwork to be considered for banners, cards, calendars and display at the grand re-opening of the Princeville Center on Sept. 15. Cash and prizes will also be awarded.

Students may attend more than one artwork session, as the sessions will be different, but each student is allowed only one entry submission for the competition.

Yotsuda offered a workshop this week for artists who be will be a part of the Kahu ‘Aina program. Melissa Chimera, Maui artist and naturalist, presented “Painting and Conservation: Two Great Preoccupations” with a demonstration of contour drawing with charcoal, acrylic painting and printing. Ken Wood, field botanist with the National Tropical Botanical Garden, followed with a slide presentation.

Yotsuda said that she likes that the VanGo program forces her to take work out to different places, because it is beneficial to the geographical areas she services.

Yotsuda said she is afraid that if art is not put in front of children when they are young, they will not feel comfortable talking about it and will not develop the language for it. They will feel like she did when she started taking art classes — stupid for being unschooled. They will do what she did … hide in a corner.

They, unlike her, will choose something other than art.

“Who knows?” Yotsuda said, “We could be missing people who could be artists or art educators.”

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