In honor of National Arts in Education Week, September 9-15, 2018, we talked with our Arts Education Director, Sarah Brothers, about how the arts help students succeed.

Sarah Brothers, Arts Education Director at Arts Council Santa Cruz County

How is equity connected to education, and arts education in particular?

A child’s success in school, and in life, is often determined by their zip code. While California education code states that every student in the state is required to receive quality arts education, due to funding disparities between school districts that just doesn’t happen. Thanks to the Arts Council’s generous donors who support our arts education programs we are working to expand access to arts education to more students across the county, focusing on schools that do not yet have the arts integrated into their curriculum.

How does arts education help students in the classroom?

Everyone learns differently. The arts can provide multiple pathways toward learning that leave no one behind and give every child a sense that they can find their own special place in the world. The arts offer a space where students can take risks, allow themselves to fail without shame, and then eagerly try again. This builds a sense of belonging and purpose that will follow them into future ambitions. I’ve experienced that first hand, and definitely seen that in students. That’s really at the heart of what it’s all about.

How do the arts help students in terms of literacy?

Many students in schools across Santa Cruz County have an added barrier of learning a new language. If a student is starting school while just learning to speak English, but still thinking in Spanish, that’s an extra step of translation they have to deal with before even tackling the work itself. The arts, in many cases, open the door to literacy for kids. In one program, they might draw a picture of a story they just heard, and then write about their own creation afterward with more spontaneity and ease. In another exercise, drama students who might otherwise shy away from speaking up in class get to act out their new language enthusiastically through stage characters, or puppets behind a curtain. Through dance, children can learn to “embody” new words and ideas, rather than just memorizing them.

What arts education program are you most excited about right now?

The Mariposa Arts program pairs high school students with adult mentors who are positive role models, and who teach them leadership skills and classroom management. Teens have an opportunity to succeed at their first job, teaching dance, drama, drumming, painting and music to middle and elementary school students. Many of the students report that Mariposa Arts is the one thing that keeps their interest – and keeps them coming to school. It’s something they’re good at and that’s connecting them with peers in a positive way.

Research supports this – nationally, low-income children who are exposed to arts education are twice as likely to attend college than their peers who never get to paint, dance or sing in school. Investing in these programs is investing in students’ long-term success.

Our donors also support Family Arts Nights where parents get to engage in the arts together with their kids. These fun and inspirational evenings build relationships between parents, kids, teachers, and school administrators. Family Art Nights provide a doorway for parents to be involved in their children’s education.

Why is this work important to you, personally?

The arts saved my life! Making my own art allowed me to process and heal, and participating in community arts programs gave me a sense of identity, belonging, and purpose when I needed it most!

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