Celebrating Arts Education Month

Special Education Community Advisory Committee and Balance4Kids Art Show and Poster Competition bring teachers, students and families together

There was a festive atmosphere at the Santa Cruz County Office of Education the evening of February 24th. Surrounded by student art, with live music in the background, students, families, friends, teachers and administrators chatted and enjoyed light refreshments while highlighting the importance of arts in education.

The occasion was the third annual Special Education Community Advisory Committee (CAC) and Balance4Kids Art Show and reception which celebrates the artistic talents of students with special needs in Santa Cruz County. An appreciative crowd of approximately one hundred people were in attendance.

Victoria George, Director of Balance4Kids, Abra Ogden and Beth Prentiss (from left to right) enjoy the reception.

The art brightened the walls of the County Office of Education facility throughout February. Students had been free to interpret the theme, Under the Sun, as they liked. The resulting artwork took form from many ideas such as Chasing Rainbows, Big Cloud, Super Heroes, and William the Leopard. All who attended had the opportunity to vote for their favorite piece of art to determine competition winners. Three local artists, Gayle Ortiz, Jill Tardif and Lori Wilson, volunteered as judges and were given the task of choosing one artwork to be included on this year’s CAC poster. The poster is put on display at every public school site in the county as well as other venues.

The art show has grown in popularity since its inception two years ago. Seventy-seven pre-school through post-secondary education students participated this year. The exhibited art was of a high standard that showcased the students’ sense of color, texture, imagination and creativity. Those students who attended were delighted to see their work on display and proud to show their talent to family and friends. The music, provided by the musical group Lite Blue, added to the celebratory atmosphere. The concept for the art exhibition and reception was originated by Wendy Harrison, County Office of Education Special Education teacher, who continues to coordinate the event.

Artist judges Gayle Ortiz, Lori Wilson, and Jill Tardiff

The reception was sponsored by Balance4Kids, a non-profit agency that fundraises to provide grants to teachers, provides instructional aides and respite help in the classrooms, and supports after-school activities at Kids Quest and The Club Quest Social Center for students with special needs. The Community Advisory Committee (CAC) also sponsors the event. CAC is a group of parents, educators and other interested community members who make a difference in the education of all children. The goal of the CAC is to improve and protect the education of children with special needs.

A Word about the Arts from the County Superintendent

Participating with the students and families celebrating the art show and reception and being aware that March is Arts Education Month, made me reflect on the fact that the arts are essential for all and, in particular, all students. The arts represent a form of thinking that is both sensory and academic, involving imagination and judgment. Art is an essential form of expression and communication. The arts provide unique ways of reaching students who may not access knowledge as readily through language and mathematics alone. Many studies have shown that the arts can level the playing field for young people and help improve their academic achievement by overcoming challenges varying from disadvantaged backgrounds, reading and language development, and spatial reasoning.

Art experiences strengthen problem solving and creative thinking, nurture self-confidence, self-control, collaboration and social tolerance. Many young people find joy in artistic expression as was demonstrated during the Special Education arts show and reception. The arts help keep students connected to their teachers and school. For some, it is the single source of inspiration that keeps them in school.

I feel it is important to point out, especially now during Arts Education Month, that when school budgets are being cut to crisis level depth, art and music education are the first casualties. It is clear why this happens in the current climate. Every school and classroom is rated according to how students achieve on standardized tests. However, when innovative strategies are employed, Reading, Math and Social Studies can easily be integrated into the Arts and Music curriculum.

The political and social contexts that initially made these choices necessary are difficult to understand. The arts are not frills; they are essential elements of a complete education and often the motivation to achieve student success.