SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 9, 2012

Column: Focus on the arts leads to improvement in Salem

Thomas LaValley
The Salem News

---- — Bates School is an “enhancement of the arts” school. Our goal is to provide our students with a well-rounded education that includes the arts as an essential part of that education. Research has shown that students who study the arts excel in their academic classes. Students who incorporate art into their studies think about problems or situations differently, which also enhances abstract thinking. With a full-time art and full-time music teacher, we provide our students with more instruction of each. Chorus is offered in grades two through five, and these students receive an extra art class every third week of school. For the younger students, in kindergarten and first grade, an extra art or music class is offered every other week.

The music program at our school allows the children to learn about many composers while also learning how to play instruments throughout the school year at all grade levels. Students are given the opportunity to show off their learned and practiced skills with annual performances at the school. Live performances help promote confidence in our students, and they receive necessary feedback on their efforts and the opportunity to excel in front of a public audience. All grade levels perform; when in grade three, students “graduate” to an evening performance. Grades four and five perform in our winter and spring concerts. (Our next winter concert is Wednesday, Dec. 12, at 7 p.m. All are welcome). The PTO, through the Cultural Arts Committee, provides programs that enhance the arts through artist-in-resident performances. Past programs have included the history of American dance and Beethoven.

The visual arts program at our school teaches students about different techniques used in art, and how to express their feelings through visual art. From kindergarten to grade five, a clay-work is offered; students create sculptures and pottery, glaze them, and fire them in our kiln. We collaborate with the Peabody Essex Museum, so our students in grades three through five visit the museum three times a year. Using the displays at the PEM, as well as Museum of Fine Arts, students observe and then create using similar techniques. It is resourceful to use the great pieces of art exhibited at these two exceptional museums to help guide our children to understand the importance of visual art. To present their work, we have an annual art show at the end of the school year displaying students’ artwork. We set up the school as if it were a museum; the children are enthusiastic to see their work on display and are praised for their efforts. (The next student exhibit will be held May 30 from 6 to 8 p.m. All are welcome).

In addition to the two major art programs, our classroom teachers are encouraged to use styles of art within their lessons when possible. Many of our teachers were trained in the picture/image writing technique from the University of New Hampshire. With this training, and provided materials, the classroom curriculum advocates the importance of visualization during the process of writing. Students learn to brainstorm their thoughts to describe a visual image using more sophisticated words. This method has shown positive outcome, easily detected through the students’ poetry and prose work. Teachers sometimes play music while the students work in order to set the mood of the classroom, while enhancing brain activity. One of our main strategies this year is to incorporate the musical and visual art lessons into our math and language arts programs in order to further aid the students in testing well on the MCAS. Children learn to measure a line to the nearest inch in math; this is parallel to children learning to measure a line segment to produce an art piece in a visual arts class. This transference of a learned skill applied to a more desirable situation allows for an increased thinking skill. Presently being a Level 2 school, our goal is to become a Level 1 school, and we are on our way with the work that we are doing.

We certainly know the value of the arts in our school; it aids children to have a well-rounded education. Our motto is: “Guiding us Beyond Our Creative Horizons,” and we are living up to that expectation. It is a wonderful feeling to hear about former students continuing in the middle and high school performance groups or attending art colleges due to the experiences they had at Bates Elementary School. With the Salem Public Schools’ continuing support of our prioritized arts curriculum, our students truly receive an enhanced education!

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Thomas LaValley is principal of Bates School. This is one in a regular series of columns from the Community Advisory Board for the Salem schools.