Sarah Halstead’s art classroom at Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado, brims with creativity. Finished projects are piled up on a table, the ceiling tiles have been painted by former pupils and students are always milling around working on their pottery, even in the off periods.
Halstead greets individuals as they trickle in for Pottery and Sculpture 1 and then they get to work. “Your reliefs are due today,” Halstead reminds the class as she passes out the rubrics. Students had been instructed to carve a surrealist scene into a material of their choosing, such as styrofoam, plastic or pages in a book. Along with the relief, they turned in a reflections and comments sheet. “Explain what your piece is, why it is surreal, and if you had any complications, list how you could have done it differently,” instructed Halstead.
All across the country, art programs are being cut from schools because of low funding. Even programs that have not been fully cut are experiencing a reduction in time or staff. Most educators would not disagree with the claim that art programs are important; however, art is not held to be as necessary as reading or math. The National Science Foundation receives about $4.7 million more in funding than the arts and humanities.
Back in Miss Halstead’s classroom, music is playing, and the students are now brainstorming for their next assignment, which they will begin on Monday. “This is probably my favorite project for this class,” comments Halstead. Students choose a song and do an abstract interpretation of it using shapes and forms. “Students are more invested when it is something they are interested in, like music,” explained Halstead. During this time, some students show Halstead their sketches of ideas to receive feedback. “You seem really excited about this idea. Have you thought about how you would do this part?” encourages Halstead.
As the class period progresses, Halstead walks around to the tables of students, listening to them discuss their ideas with their peers. The class has just enough structure to keep them on task, yet not enough to make them feel restricted. They can be social and productive at the same time. One student feels down on himself for how his art is turning out, but Halstead reassures him, “You’ll get there. You’ve only done three projects so far. That would be like playing a sport and giving up after three practices. That’s just not realistic. You’ve got to give yourself time.”
Art is much more beneficial to students than just for the mastery of media. Students are tapping into their own creativity, which will serve them throughout their lives. “It is incredibly vital to have a place to channel creativity. They are building on their problem-solving skills and working the muscles on the other side of their brains [oposite the side used for academics]” said Halstead. Even when she does not have a class in session, 10 to 15 students occupy her classroom as a hangout or use their spare time to work on projects.
Artistic expression really does help students perform better in other areas of their lives. According to DoSomething.org, “Students who study art are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement and three times more likely to be awarded for attendance.” Japan, Hungary and the Netherlands have some of the highest math and science scores. They also require schools to have art and music education.
DoSomething.org also says, “Multiple studies have concluded that curricular and extracurricular art studies and activities help keep high-risk dropout students in school.” Perhaps art gives students a place to fit in or is used for channeling their emotions. Halstead asserts, “Art benefits so many different types of students. It can be totally relevant to 100 kinds of kids. An athlete can come in not expecting to be good at art and end up loving it! It’s not always just the art major kids that enjoy it the most.” Halstead decided one of her favorite aspects of teaching art was that “every single year, every student does something different with the same project.”
In art class, students get time to be creative; there aren’t really any right or wrong answers. “There is a surprise element in art that is so different from any other classes. People who didn’t think they would be any good end up being surprised with themselves. It is a much different environment. I want it to feel like an art studio, not a lecture,” explained Halstead. “That’s why I wanted to teach high school. I loved the challenge of earning the high schoolers’ trust. You have to show that you really know what you are talking about. I love being a part of their lives as they are getting ready to go be adults.”
While art programs are being cut from curricula, Sarah Halstead has shown us that art is a vital part of education. To help keep art programs in schools, you can donate to The Dreaming Zebra Foundation dreamingzebra.org.
Posted by Katelyn Turner