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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 15, 2002

Creativity returns to schools

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

Students in Carol Nagasako's class at Manoa Elementary School are working on artwork for a contest celebrating "100 Years of Flight." Educators and nonprofit groups are pushing for a revival of art in the classroom.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

In the 1980s, tiny Waiahole Elementary School was a National Blue Ribbon school, recognized for its extensive arts program.

But a decade of budget tightening and a shaky economic climate all but eliminated formalized arts programs from Waiahole and other elementary schools in the 1990s. Schools no longer had enough money to use on what has come to be considered educational frills: art, music, dance, drama and P.E.

Since then, some public schools have used discretionary money to "purchase" an additional position from the Department of Education or relied on their parent associations to raise money for art or music teachers.

Waiahole doesn't have that kind of budget or resources, so its 125 students must do without an arts specialist and instead rely on the talent of its classroom teachers. "We can't even come close," principal Gerald Smith said.

But a new option has emerged that is putting art back into schools at Waiahole and across Hawai'i, as an alliance of educators and nonprofit groups pushes for a revival of art in the classroom, concerned that an entire generation of students has received an incomplete or erratic arts education.

Today, what is known as the integrated arts approach is taking hold at schools across the state, driven by a combination of national issues, academic research and local concerns.

At Waiahole Elementary, a research project with several community partners and the state will bring resident artists to the school in an attempt to integrate dance, visual arts and music into subjects like math, science, social studies and literature.

"We're trying to reinvent ourselves," Smith said.

The No Child Left Behind Act, the newest federal education law, for the first time names art as a core academic subject, and the federal government is starting to offer more grants for arts education. Hawai'i legislators a few years ago mandated that the public schools implement art standards in the classrooms and created a sort of task force for the arts.

There are renewed efforts in teacher training as well.

The University of Hawai'i for the first time has approved a certification program for secondary teachers in drama, which will allow drama teachers to get the same kind of certification as music or art teachers. Because experts say the most realistic — and least expensive — way to keep art in schools is to have general education teachers use it as part of their regular curriculum, elementary education majors starting next year will have to take classes in art, music, dance or physical education, subjects that have never before been required.

The quality — and the very existence — of art instruction has varied widely across the state, though.

While drama, music and visual arts mostly survived at middle schools and high schools where students can take those classes as electives, educators say elementary schools have had spotty participation in the arts. Because of a lack of art education jobs, university students stopped getting training in that area.

"There used to be some very vibrant programs," said Marilyn Christofori, director of the Hawai'i Alliance for Arts Education. "We really do have a generation of children here who have had no arts training."

Wendie Liu, a school renewal specialist for the Kapolei complex and a former state specialist in art, said the schools that were most successful in saving their arts programs were the ones that integrated their curriculum, teaching art alongside social studies, science or English instead of trying to keep the arts as a separate subject area.

"Money in general was cut back," Liu said. "The schools have to take care of the math and the reading and the science first of all. It's not that schools don't want to support the arts, but the responsibility fell back on the classroom teachers. Some of them were comfortable with teaching art and others were not."

Jamie Simpson with the Honolulu Theatre for Youth has been working with groups of education majors at UH to teach them to use drama techniques in the classroom.

"More teachers are willing to try music and visual arts in elementary school," Simpson said. "Dance and drama are really lacking. It's because they're kinesthetic. You have to get out of your seat in order to do it. It's loud. The teachers don't know what to do."

The Honolulu Theatre for Youth takes the education majors through workshops, then follows them through their student teaching experience as they try out the lessons on students. A lesson in Hawaiian history, for example, has students role play to try to create their own island nation and settle disagreements over food supply and things like governance. Students may create an original hula.

"Students don't go on autopilot," Simpson said. "It forces them to be present."

Elaine Zinn, arts-in-education coordinator of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, said research on brain development has shown that experiences with art, color and movement help children learn subjects such as reading or math.

"Art makes you a whole person," she said. "Research shows that children do better in school — particularly those children who don't do well in the regular classroom being lectured to all the time — when they have kinesthetic experiences. They remember lessons longer. School becomes more meaningful."

Ann Mahi, director of school and community leadership at the DOE, said the revival of the arts in the schools has been driven by the Legislature's mandate that the DOE, UH, the Hawai'i Association of Independent Schools, the Hawai'i Alliance for Arts Education and the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts work together to develop art standards and curriculum.

"We're teaching the general education teacher how to bring art into the curriculum," Mahi said. "It's not just art for art's sake. Students are engaged in creative thinking and problem solving."

Private companies have been involved in some efforts to improve arts education. In Leeward O'ahu, Campbell Estate every year sponsors the Leeward Young Artists Exhibit, in which hundreds of students compete to have their artwork displayed at Kapolei Hale or win scholarships to the Honolulu Academy of Art.

Apple Computer has chosen Hawai'i schools as one of 30 affiliates nationwide for the Apple Learning Interchange, a Web-based arts library for generalist classroom teachers. It will include the arts curriculum developed in Hawai'i, known as Arts First, along with lesson plans, video and text on art history, art theory and practice for teachers and parents.

"It will be very user friendly," Christofori said. "It's not going to be a piece of paper that goes on a shelf."

The Hawai'i site won't be ready until the spring, but curriculum from around the country can be viewed at apple.com/ali.

Susanna Brown, education director at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center, said the staff for years has been giving workshops so teachers can learn how to integrate art into their curriculum. But the center has recently started trying to train artists in teaching techniques and the language of education.

"Just because someone is a great artist does not mean they will be able to teach art," Brown said. An artist mentor program hooks up artists with teachers to help write curriculum, model lessons and give feedback.

Artists in the Schools, which is part of the state's Art in Public Places program, uses state grant money to commission professional artists to create artwork for public schools. It uses a similar approach to teach the artists to work with part of the student body in art education.

But schools with large-scale arts programs usually need outside help from parents or foundations to keep their programs running.

Parents and teachers at Manoa Elementary raise money to pay the salary of a music teacher, while a group of teachers has taken workshops to try to integrate art into the classroom.

At Kula Elementary School on Maui, the parents association raises money to help pay for a program that brings artists into the schools. In eight-week increments, all students in the school are exposed to visual arts, music and drama.

"Teaching in an arts integrated classroom isn't easy," said Rae Takemoto, a third-grade teacher at Kula School. "Most of us aren't artists. But it brings joy into your classroom. When you teach with joy and learn with joy you can't help but love learning."

Reach Jennifer Hiller at jhiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.

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Correction: Elaine Zinn is the arts-in-education coordinator for the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. Her title in an earlier version of this story was incorrect because of a reporter's error.