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The ‘extra’ education

It was positive news when superintendent Mark DeVoti declared that the local school district would meet upcoming state budget cuts with a strategy that will, if successful, prevent the elimination of vital programs.

The district could see $500,000 to $1 million fewer dollars from the state during the next budget cycle and the plan is to meet the shortfall with attrition, buyouts of willing teachers and money from general fund reserves.

We find this move positive because our local district, like most, is walking the edge of a budget abyss, working hard to retain a semblance of quality education in times marked by less monetary support each year and by rapt attention to test performance and the need to heel to the demands of legislators who, in many cases, could not themselves pass the tests.

With the superintendent’s promise to avoid termination of programs, we breathe a sigh of relief because, in far too many cases, the programs first on the chopping block are arts and music – critical programs in our mind, and programs that, rather than being cut, should be enhanced and expanded at every turn. Thus far, the district has done a reasonably good job protecting programs in the regular curriculum, and a number of programs have been added at the extracurricular level.

We have, in the past, suggested that those aspects of arts and music education that have been moved in recent years to the extracurricular realm, be funded at the same per pupil rate as all other extracurricular activities (read sports). The same funding, of course, should be extended to programs such as Destination Imagination, HOSA, FBLA, Skills USA and others. The energy and time spent by students in school theater and musical productions, in the high school’s Americana project, and in the above mentioned groups, lead to rewards every bit as great, and we think often greater, than those offered by most sports. The money should be equal. Since the district is busy dealing with budget problems, why not iron this one out in the mix?

The end result would be a bonus for our students as they move on in their educations and their working lives.

There is evidence major corporations are now hiring students who excel in music and the arts for their abilities as creative thinkers. HOSA, FBLA and Skills USA nurture business and industrial skills tailored to the marketplace. The events at which students in these programs compete require a high level of skill — talents sought by the business community.

These programs should receive the same per pupil funding as football, basketball or any other high school sport. The same amount, per pupil, should be spent to send Skills USA or Destination Imagination students to competitions as is spent on athletes sent to distant competitions.

And these programs must be protected and enhanced in the future; all of them improve academic performance in other areas.

Music, for example, is an activity that allows children to work both hemispheres of the brain, something only higher-level mathematics and logic-processing games like chess achieve. Deny our students this opportunity and you deny them the chance to greatly improve their overall intellectual development. In the visual arts, students exercise talents and develop ways of thinking “out of the box” that enrich all other areas of life.

Learning music and the skills needed in the visual arts, from an early age, makes children more creative and more intelligent citizens. That same creativity is nurtured in programs such as FBLA, HOSA and Skills USA with an eye to the marketplace and the world of work.

When these skills are pursued in the extracurricular mode, fund the programs equally with sport.

We owe it to our kids to ensure they have the opportunities to develop habits and skills in all aspects of their school life.

Karl Isberg

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