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Area Educators Praise Arts Report

Southern California educators interviewed Tuesday agreed with the National Endowment for the Arts that schoolchildren shouldn’t be arts illiterates.

“We have really raised a generation of students who haven’t had (an arts) curriculum,” said Connie Beardsley, the arts coordinator for the City of Carlsbad who chairs the arts education committee for the National Assembly of Local Arts Agencies.

“They don’t know anything about theater, about dance, about the visual arts unless their parents have given them training outside the school system.”

Beardsley said that in lieu of a sequential education program in the arts, school districts frequently bring in artists in residence or use the arts to teach core subjects. “I think that’s fine and good and a very positive thing, but it is not a substitute for a separate curriculum,” she said.

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Public school officials said arts programs in the region could use better trained teachers and more money.

Lorna Round, associate superintendent in charge of instruction for the Los Angeles Unified School District, said, “We would be in full support” of the National Endowment for the Arts’ recommendations. “The arts are an integral part of helping students achieve reading, writing and mathematics skills,” Round said. “They are certainly not a frill.”

The Los Angeles district, consisting of 710 city schools including 411 elementary schools, never had specific elementary art teachers. “The regular classroom teacher is expected to include that,” Round said, noting that the program is stronger in secondary schools.

Round said students graduating from Los Angeles high schools are required to complete one fine-arts course.

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The district participates in the Music Center’s Education Division programs and in the Getty Center for Education programs. The Getty has targeted about 20 elementary schools to give classroom teachers comprehensive arts education training. “But that’s just a drop in the bucket,” Round said.

At the same time, 11 of the approximately 80 magnet schools specialize in music, theater, television and the visual arts, a spokesman said.

The High School of Performing Arts on the Cal State Los Angeles campus is a Los Angeles County facility.

Marie Clement, coordinator for visual and performing arts at the Orange County Department of Education, said teachers are encouraged to incorporate art into regular classroom curriculum as a way to spark interest in learning new skills. There are 453 public schools in Orange County: 312 elementary, 69 junior high, 56 senior high and 16 continuing education.

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“I have seen kids who can’t do diddley-squat who can produce a drawing,” Clement said. “And when they see that they can excel in something, they feel like a someone.

“We need to do more with the sights and sounds of learning. Not only do they increase test scores, but they increase self esteem.”

The Orange County Education Department and the Laguna Art Museum have traveling art shows that regularly visit schools to spark student interest in the arts.

The county has also developed several lesson plans that use art to make such subjects as geography, civics, English and math more interesting. Another lesson plan attempts to demystify opera by explaining the story line to the children and having them act out the scenes themselves.

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“The curriculum is vivid,” said Clement. “And what is vivid is remembered.”

Kay Wagner of the San Diego Unified School District said, “There definitely is a need for planned sequential arts education.”

Wagner, the 148-school district’s program manager for visual and performing arts, said a similar report issued a few months ago by the National Endowment for the Humanities failed to emphasize arts education enough.

She said the San Diego district has an arts education curriculum that calls for a minimum of 110 minutes a week in art, music, dance and drama for grades kindergarten through six.

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“We do have a curriculum for arts education,” she said. “But whether we have enough time in the day or whether we have enough people to teach it is something else. The materials exist.”

The problem, she said, is finding the time and the money needed to train teachers. California law does not require training in arts education, as indicated in the federal report, to grant teaching certification. Without training in arts education, some teachers find the arts “intimidating or . . . not important,” Wagner said.

Asked to estimate how often the goal of 110 minutes per week is met in district classes, Wagner said, “Maybe 1% of the time.

“There’s much more art going in the schools now than there was two or three years ago,” she said. “More schools are having art fairs. I see much more work up on the boards and more interest.”

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Contributing to this article were Times staff writers Judith Michaelson in Los Angeles, Dianne Klein in Orange County and Hilliard Harper in San Diego.


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