Why Art? Because there is no replacement for that kind of education. The evidence is there. And you really don’t have to look that hard.
I remember the day I learned that Art was being removed from the elementary school curriculum and I also remember the expressions on the children’s faces when they learned it would not be available to them in the following school year. Teachers, parents and most importantly, the students were sad, disappointed and some even cried. They realized that their favorite subject was being taken away. It was a favorite for a variety of reasons. For some, it was because drawing was what they enjoyed doing most. For others, the class time was their opportunity to be relaxed and in an atmosphere where they would not be judged, in an established safe zone. The art class was our time to problem-solve together, while working to achieve the visual aesthetic that all child artists seek, with support, encouragement and the understanding that there were no wrong answers.
At AMoA, we offer a program called Art Express that travels to schools to provide art education and hands-on experiences to students that do not have art in their curriculum. This year we have incorporated the Visual Thinking Strategies program into the lessons and I must state that the decision to do so is one that will always be considered the best decision ever. Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is a student discussion forum that uses art as a platform and encourages students to expand their thinking processes and assists in the development of visual literacy, communication skills and supports increased reading and comprehension skills. It provides each student with tools to build their confidence and makes them feel their thoughts and ideas are valid, no matter what. Art, as a subject, creates a safe environment.
"Diego is a sweet, and very shy little boy in the first grade. I worked with him last year in a small group to help with his reading and he never said a word. Seriously. Not a word. He was polite and well-mannered, but he just didn't speak. Yesterday, in his very first VTS session, Mrs. Nancy asked a question about what the children saw happening in a picture and I was surprised when Diego's little hand went up. When Mrs. Nancy got to him to let him express his answer, it was evident that he was excited to answer. For the first time, I realized that he has a speech problem. He stutters. This is probably why he doesn't like to speak. The amazing thing is that, even though he struggled to get his answer out, he was determined to answer! He fought through his limitation and gave his answer. Another adult in the room, a paraprofessional who works with autistic students, turned to me in disbelief and asked, "Did you hear that? Diego never says a word!" I was already fighting tears, so all I could do was nod. He even answered another question later in the lesson. I actually wrote, "Diego SPEAKS!" on the paper in front of me. If ten minutes in a VTS session can incite this precious child to speak, I can wait to see what this year holds for my students!"
This letter was written by Diego’s elementary school teacher.
Nancy Noles, AMOA Educator