Friday morning was something to look forward to. Not only did the weekend beckon, but on that day Dorothy Hansen provided a one-hour respite from the daily academic grind. A little blue-haired lady wearing those “cat-eye shaped” spectacles popular among women then, Mrs. Hansen was a stern taskmaster and a virtuoso on … the autoharp.

Music appreciation period took place the second Friday of the month; Mrs. Hansen would take us through the familiar scale of E-G-B-D-F or, “Every-Good-Boy-Does-Fine,” as a warm up for the ensuing musical cavalcade. Although we fifth graders had more affinity for Martha and the Vandellas or Wilson Pickett, we would look forward to Mrs. Hansen sitting down at the piano and instructing the tenors, sopranos, altos, etc. on the “great classics” like “Oh Shenandoah” or the immortal “Molly Malone.” She’d make sure that, by the end of the month, we could harmonize well enough to complete a song uninterrupted.

Most public school students today don’t know about the privilege of free music lessons. California decades ago essentially eliminated that opportunity—along with art, drama and dance classes—when voters passed Proposition 13. But things are changing in the Antelope Valley. The Lancaster Museum of Art and History (MOAH) has added an Arts for Youth program to its roster of arts education programs. Directed toward high school students, it provides an opportunity to learn about historical and contemporary art practices through field trips to the museum’s year-round rotating exhibitions. The program is a complement to the museum’s “Educational Trunk Program” which since 2006 has been providing museum-related learning opportunities to elementary through high school students.

“This program helps to open the doors to the individual arts,” said Devora Orantes, a museum aide. “It is a wonderful opportunity for the students to get to know the museum and art history. The opportunity to work through the schools makes this (program) even more important because the kids can go back and tell what they’ve seen and then encourage their classmates to discover the arts.”

MOAH’s Arts for Youth Program revolves around docent-let tours that take students through current exhibitions and provides insightful commentary regarding the works displayed. Also, there are discussions that address topics regarding the definition and scope of art, how art affects society, and what is the function of art in the community. Students are engaged in discussions, are introduced to significant artwork displayed throughout the southland, and are encouraged to interact with the space/exhibits via social media.

Arts increase student achievement

The National Endowment for the Arts released a 2012 research report, “The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth,” that indicated a number of positive outcomes associated with high levels of arts exposure for youth of low socio-economic status. The study suggested that such students appear to have better academic results, better workforce opportunities and more civic engagement than at-risk students who do not. And although the visual arts may be the most immediate introduction to the fine arts by virtue of places like MOAH, music still matters. The Arts Education Partnership (part of the League of American Orchestras) in 2011 released its study “Music Matters: How Music Education Helps Students Learn, Achieve and Succeed” which revealed that an education “in and through music” can help prepare students to learn; can facilitate student academic achievement, and can develop the creative capacities for life-long learning and professional success. “Music education enhances fine motor skills, improves recall and retention of verbal information, advances math achievement, improves average SAT scores and strengthens perseverance,” the study reported.

The MOAH program may reveal to disadvantaged students some simple tools that are reported to be effective in helping in the areas of academics, self-esteem and stress relief. For children who often have no where to go after school because of working parents or a troubling home life, any type of after-school program can be a good alternative. Art programs can help to increase academic performance while allowing youth to excel in a subject when they may suffer in others.

The American Art Therapy Association says that completing an art project can be an important part of healing for those who have experienced trauma or for children who need to express themselves and relieve stress. The association notes that art is said to have recuperative assets for children living within a stressful environment, and it can provide a way for children to have discussions and to learn constructive criticism, all of which can lead to the development of conflict resolution skills.

Security trumps youth imagination?

The California Alliance for Arts Education reported as far back as 2005 that arts education has an alarmingly diminished role on public school campuses. Some urban campuses may have more police officers than art or music teachers. They found that between 2001 and 2005 enrollment in music education had declined by 47 percent. Also, the study indicated that schools have felt increasing pressure because of increased standardized tests and federal mandates to spend more time on reading and math, or a “narrowing of focus” they said on specific school curricula. That paradigm resulted in a 22 percent reduction in the amount of time spent on arts and music instruction. Wealthier school districts reportedly have the benefit of parents and community members who may place more value on arts education, although “…a child’s arts education should not be predicated by where they happen to live,” the report stated. The report went on to illustrate that “… until school districts have confidence that new arts education funding is ongoing, they will be reluctant to invest in hiring and training teachers.”

A more recent analysis, this time from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) in 2012, found that fewer elementary schools are offering visual arts, dance and drama classes. More than 1.3 million elementary students fail today to get any music instruction and about 800,000 middle and high school students may never have the opportunity in school to learn how to play a musical instrument. Again, it was budget cuts on-going for about a decade that have deprived youth of the pride and sense of accomplishment in learning a piece of music, sculpting that prized ceramic ashtray or piggy bank or even expressing themselves in watercolor or oil-and-canvas.

A reported “equity gap” between the availability of arts instruction for students in more affluent schools compared to those in high-poverty schools has left many economically-disadvantaged youngsters longing for someone to teach them about the arts. The DOE report concluded that the equity gap is most prevalent in urban schools. Researchers found that at-risk teenagers without arts education may miss the opportunity to express themselves.

The so-called “idiosyncratic” teen who may opt for pink or purple hair, sport lots of tattoos and/or piercings or may dress in all black can thrive in art when he or she—sometimes ostracized by peers—can grow emotionally within an artistic environment when he or she has not learned to shine elsewhere. They gain a sense of play and the fun of discovery. Most of all, the DOE revealed, the child without arts education may lose the most important aspect of their formative years—potential.

Making a vital comeback

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in 2012 reported that music education was almost universally available in the nation’s public elementary schools with 94 percent of schools offering instruction that was designated specifically for music.

Visual Arts instruction was also available on most grade school campuses, although dance and drama were less commonly taught in elementary school. In 2010, most elementary schools that offered music and visual arts reported that they provided instruction at least once a week in these subjects. In fact, weekly music instruction was reported available in 93 percent of the nation’s grade schools. And like the MOAH partnership with Lancaster schools, 42 percent of grade schools surveyed nationally reported that they had working relationships with community organizations which promote the arts.

Most of the nation’s arts instruction in secondary schools involves music appreciation (91 percent), with the visual arts at 89 percent and drama/theatre offered at 45 percent of public schools. Availability of music instruction reportedly varies by concentrations of poverty.

In 2012, the NCES revealed that music education was offered in 89 percent of grade schools with the highest concentrations of poverty. The results have been encouraging, according to Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, because such “underserved” students can find an outlet for success possibly unknown to teachers and administrators because of pre-conceived notions about diligence and self-discipline in relation to kids from the inner city and those in rural areas.

“The study of arts can significantly boost student achievement, reduce discipline problems, and increase the odds that students will go on to graduate from college,” Duncan said in 2013. His department had previously released the report “Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: 2009-10.”

Duncan added that arts education is essential to stimulating the creativity and innovation that will “prove critical” to young Americans competing in a knowledge-based, global economy. “The arts are valuable for their own sake,” Duncan said. “They empower students to create and appreciate aesthetic works. Creating by doing is a uniquely powerful way to learn.”

This month in Seattle, Wash, the public school system announced the first year results of their Creative Advantage arts education initiative which has reportedly helped to close the access gap in arts education. Arts are considered a core academic subject by the state of Washington and are included in the Seattle Public Schools strategic plan. In five years, educators there expect all Seattle students beginning in grade school to have access to a continuum of arts learning opportunities.

The Lancaster program has grants available to schools that cover transportation costs to and from MOAH. Teachers as well as students may download applications and grant forms, as well as access further information at www.lancastermoah.org or call (661) 723-6250.