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Robeson students Eric Collier, Kanetra Washington, Ta'Shara Edwards, Malika McToy, Jamise Parish and Robert Woods perform with their teacher LaDonna Myers at the November 14 Board of Education meeting. George Cooper accompanies.

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Robeson high-school students perform "Rise Up and Sing."

CPS Arts Education Plan moves forward for December debut

by Heather Momyer
Nov 14, 2012


Heather Momyer/MEDILL

Perez elementary students Xochitl Paez, Tamara Sanchez, Ivan Alvarez and Brian Salgado line the rail after their performance. They were accompanied on keyboard by Mark Piatt of the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Heather Momyer/MEDILL

Perez students perform their poem "We Are Unique."

Starting next month, students in Chicago Public Schools will be offered a broader education in the arts, through a new program that's specially designed to integrate arts training into a school regimen that currently focuses on reading, writing, math and science.

On Wednesday, the Chicago Board of Education gave final approval to the ambitious CPS Arts Education Plan, which has been in the works for close to a year.

The plan is based on the idea that arts training, far from being a scholastic luxury, can in fact enhance students’ educational experience, and bring a new dimension to the learning process.

In October, as the plan was coming together, Mayor Rahm Emanuel wrote in a public letter that integrating arts into the school day “enhances student outcomes and academic achievement.”

Through the new program, backers expect to “create better students through arts education,” by honing “21st century skills: creativity, communication, collaboration and innovation,” CPS Director of Arts Mario Rossero told School Board members as they prepared to vote on the plan this week.

Some CPS schools already have arts education efforts of one kind or another – often centered on visual arts -- but there’s currently no standard program. The new plan will bring a wider range of arts to all students.

The arts initiative, Rossero said, will broaden such opportunities CPS-wide, providing “access for every student in every grade at every school to the four art forms: visual art, music, dance and drama.”

CPS has yet to release full details of the plan, which establishes certain goals but is expected to provide flexibility for individual schools.

Rossero said the plan was initiated when “the stars aligned” with a newly installed, arts-supportive mayor and education leaders. Between January and July of this year, more than 40 sessions were held on the issue of arts in the city, and “without fail, arts education was the leading priority at every single one of those meetings,” Rossero said in his presentation to the board.

Sessions more specifically oriented to arts education were held from May until the end of August, and an advisory committee consisting of teachers, principals, community-based arts organizations and other education personnel was formed.

By looking at various local and national models of arts education, Rossero said, the committee formed a plan that would increase the amount of time dedicated to elementary arts instruction, and establish exposure to all four art forms as a requirement for high-school graduation. The plan also calls for adequate staffing and resources in CPS schools.

The expanded curriculum is likely to pay educational dividends, said Anne Becker, president of the Illinois Art Education Association and associate professor of education at Columbia College Chicago. There is a “complexity of problem-solving that is automatically connected with the arts,” she noted.

“The same skills needed in math and science are the same skills people use in the arts,” said Becker, who was on the advisory committee for the CPS Arts Education Plan. Arts require the ability to analyze a topic, synthesize information, reassemble that information and create a new interpretation, Becker continued. But the arts provide a “hands-on, physical way of understanding that process.”

Passage of the plan is “exciting moment for CPS students, said Carol Lloyd Rozansky, chair of the education department at Columbia College. “People have been representing ideas through art for millennia,” the professor said. “It’s a part of who we are as human beings.”