Evidence aplenty – anecdotal and studies – exists to bolster the declaration that arts programs are crucial to student development and performance. That was the backdrop recently as Memphis City Schools hosted the fourth annual ArtsFest at the Board of Education to spotlight the district's arts program.
School groups in the visual, music and dance arts from various schools, including Overton High School, Florida, Kansas Elementary and Hickory Ridge Middle performed on stages. The students were able to showcase their talents, and it was an experience for teachers as well.
ArtsFest is an extension of the hard work arts teachers, also known as non-tested teachers, put in with their pupils throughout the school year. Although there is no standardized test for the arts, teachers must still ensure their students show growth throughout the year.
Non-tested educators in MCS submit portfolios of their students' work to the State of Tennessee to measure student growth at the end of the school year. They are the first in the country to create their own evaluation system and have it approved by the State.
"Studies have shown over and over again that arts programs are vitally important for students' test scores and for a well-rounded student," says Jerry Sanders, music teacher at Peabody Elementary.
Aside from the art portfolios, events such as Artsfest – and other competitions and performances – give students and teachers a chance to evaluate themselves through public interaction.
"Most people don't think of art in terms of testing," said Shamek-Iman Weddles, a painter and Wooddale High School art teacher. "With visual arts, it's a little different. We get to pull together different things and make it right, but when it's (the artwork) up, we can't make adjustments. That's it."
The arts help students in the comprehensive learning experience. In addition to teaching, Sanders works with Peabody's Dance Ensemble, which performed classical and contemporary dances for Artsfest attendees.
"We're teaching instrument, singing and dance and all of those components are important," he said. "They help science, they help math, they help social studies. Students have to read every time they come in my room."
"It's tied together with the learned and actually moving on to what they'll do in their lives. It's directly linked," he said.
Mitchell High School's Concert Choir performed during Artsfest under the direction of vocal and piano teacher, Shana Moore. She said the annual event gives her an inside look at the district's arts program overall.
"It gives me an opportunity to see what else is going on in the district, so it's not just my program," she said. "They (the students) get to see what a theatrical music production looks like. They get to see the kids doing other things, and I think that motivates them to do better, so it makes my job a little bit easier."
Weddles compares art and Artsfest to sports.
"We get to show other people what we've been doing. It's game time; it's test time," he said.
"As 'coaches,' we really are hands off, and we let whatever we've been practicing for and showing and demonstrating come through them. To look at one student's work and know the history is very rewarding."
(Alisha Tillery is with Kingdom Quality Communications.)