I love The Arts! The arts nourish the imagination and develop a sense of creativity and appreciation of the natural beauty of the world around us. Music was that for me. I played tenor saxophone in elementary and secondary school, and I still do today. I first fell in love with music when I was a young boy growing up in rural Jamaica. Every Sunday morning we would hear the musicians from our church band, particularly the bass guitar and drums, playing with such energy and joy. That was our call to get ready for Sunday morning service. The entire community would be humming and moving to the beat of the music, as we gathered and walked to church. For me, seeing all the musicians playing with such pleasure and delight brought joy to my soul. Today, I play the tenor saxophone in a concert band and I am practising playing bass guitar. Music has turned into a beautiful part of my adult life and has opened many doors to new experiences throughout the years.
Through music, I discovered my own creativity, learned about my own identity and musical culture, and I developed a strong sense of well-being. In fact, music (and sports) kept me in school. The arts worked well with my learning styles and offered me the type of self-motivation and incentive I needed to keep me focused on my academics and to get me through elementary and secondary school. Having an appreciation for the arts has also helped me in my teaching career. I have been able to draw upon my knowledge and creativity acquired through the arts to use in my teaching practices and counselling skills. The arts have empowered me to take risks, to think critically, to be opened to many possibilities and to be resourceful. So why are the arts the first things/subjects on the chopping block when addressing budget shortfalls or when schools have to go through reorganization?
Every year, millions of dollars are cut from school budgets due to education funding cuts by the provincial government. The school boards say the cuts are necessary as a result of decreased provincial funding. However, these cuts are affecting the growth and development, as well as the learning environment, for many students and even teachers. Funding cuts have created unequal access to arts programs across Ontario for many of our students. In some cases, the arts programs continue to thrive due to parent/community efforts and financial support. While, in other cases, the arts programs suffer due to lack of space in schools, fewer specialist teachers and school boards prioritizing their budget to meet other needs. Students in small and rural schools, schools with higher levels of poverty, and schools with lower levels of parental engagement, might be less likely to have access to equitable arts programs in the classroom.
How do we make sure that all students, no matter the income of their parents/families, are able to have equitable access to quality arts programs, have the opportunity to play in a band or even go see a performance?
We need to put all students first by putting money back into education. We need to address staffing shortages, so that we can get more specialized teachers back into the arts. We need to do better at engaging all students, especially those who are often underserved and those with special educational needs. Not only will an investment in the arts demonstrate a commitment to an investment in students, it will also help close the learning gap, the poverty gap and keep students from dropping out of school prematurely.
ETFO has launched a new professional learning resource for teachers designed to support the arts as a core part of the curriculum in Ontario primary classrooms. According to ETFO, “Primary ETFO Arts has been created for classroom teachers to counter-balance the lack of arts funding in schools, and the over-emphasis on literacy and math being driven by standardized EQAO testing. It recognizes that the arts are critical in fostering student engagement in learning, along with unique and critical thinking.”
Check out the following ETFO websites for additional information:
The Primary ETFO Arts book offers engaging, integrated arts activities with literacy links.