Reviewed by Mary McLaughlin, Ma-TESOL; M.S. SpEd
It is no secret that art programs in elementary and high schools are often in a precarious position. When more and more budget cuts are made it is often the visual art teacher, with their expensive studio space and costly supplies, who is first to go. Dance and theatre classes especially suffered; in 1999 20% of schools in America had dance or theatre program, in the ten years that followed number dropped to 3%.
The National Center for Education Statistics also reported that visual arts declined nationwide, though by comparably smaller numbers. Schools are weighing their options in overextended budgets, and often the arts suffer as a result.
But in Minneapolis, Roosevelt High School used recently garnered funds from the government to expand their arts programs. And this expansion has resulted in a much higher rate of student involvement and, administration claims, better performance and a lower dropout rate.
Minneapolis is a city with a massive refugee population, as well as large numbers of African-Americans in their urban school systems. Inner city schools are often forced to cut arts funding, barely making ends meet with budgets that are far to small to accommodate their student body. Roosevelt, however, pushed the district to expand their arts and Spanish immersion programs this year when the numbers were too low.
In 2014 an alliance of teachers, parents, and students were outraged at the projected budget for the next year. They worked together to convince district officials to expand the school’s budget, eventually receiving an additional $124,000.
When students don’t have access to arts, be it visual, dance, or theatre, it often leads to disengagement with their studies overall. In inner city environments, when students can hardly attend classes due to poverty and a whole host of other problems, dropping out of high school altogether seems like an obvious choice. But when students have options that allow them to pursue their own interests, they can take ownership and interest in their work.