At Bryant Middle School We “Got Art”
“It makes me feel energized and focused.”
“It’s the best part of my day.”
“It helps me with math/stress/expressing myself.”
“I can forget everything else.”
These student comments about music, dance, and art classes reflect what teachers already know: participation in the fine arts leads to increased motivation, concentration, teamwork and yes, math, reading and verbal skills and well. And although we can’t measure changes in self-perception, artistic expression may help to create a growth mindset as well: “Some people are better than me, but I can get better too,” said one 7th grader in Andrea Butterfield’s dance class.
At Bryant, students choose from a variety of Fine Arts options, including band, orchestra, choir, multicultural art, drama, and dance. Because most courses are one semester long, students have the opportunity to try different forms of expression during the first and second halves of the school year.
“Art teaches us to problem solve. Just as in the scientific method, students learn through trial and error. And they learn to appreciate athletic talent as well,” says principal Larry Madden. Brenda G. in grade 8, concurs, stating that her art class is a “safe space for people to create… without having to worry that it’s perfect.” Many students mentioned additional benefits of dance, such as hearing different types of music, taking risks and being brave, honing their basketball or cheerleading skills, and becoming more confident while figuring out what they love to do.
In Emily Pierce’s art classes, students draw still life, design jewelry, make pottery, and create stained glass windows. But they also learn about connections between art and their academic subjects.
”Where possible in my curriculum I incorporate math, chemistry, reading, writing, and history. Students don’t always see those connections, so it’s my job to help them to realize, for example, that the ancient Greeks used the same technology to make pottery that we use today.”
Ms. Pierce’s students also learn about the transfer of energy, the effect of different temperatures on silica, and the process by which a solid becomes a liquid. PIerce recalls many “aha” moments when students recognize that what they are doing in art class is something they learned about during chemistry or math class. But perhaps more importantly, students enjoy art class because it’s an opportunity for self-discovery, “to show who I am,” as eighth grader Mischelle S. states. Classmate Juan M. notes that art allows students to “express their feelings in another way than in words.” On a practical note, Bedira B. states that “you can get scholarships for art.” And finally Jazmin C. enjoys the fact that in art class, she gets to do “things I couldn’t do before.”
Still unsure about the Fine Arts supporting a growth mindset? Ask seventh grader Kaylee B. She describes her art experience this way: “A blank canvas isn’t nothing. It’s an opportunity.” This attitude is especially crucial for our middle school students, for whom the fine arts are not just a fun “extra;” they are “essential components of a student’s education… (engaging) aspects of our brains and interactions with others that cannot be achieved in other classes,” according to Andrea Butterfield, dance instructor. “The performance opportunities inherent in dance class instill confidence and pride at a time when those qualities are developmental challenges.”
Author: Terry Thomas, Bryant Middle School