Editor’s note: This is the second in an occasional, several-part series looking at arts education in Santa Clarita Valley school district.
A recent countywide survey from the Los Angeles County Arts Education Collective found that nearly every school in Los Angeles County, and every school in the Santa Clarita Valley, offers its students some kind of arts instruction.
In fact, all 10 schools in the Newhall district participated in the survey, which evaluated the quality and quantity of arts education at all grade levels in Los Angeles County’s public schools.
“This study finds that arts education is part of the curriculum in most L.A. County public schools, that its quality can be improved and that persistent problems of equity must be addressed if we are to ensure that all students have the benefits of high quality arts education,” the survey read.
In the Newhall district, arts education is seen as a priority and is classified as being equally as important as classroom lessons in English Language Arts and mathematics.
“Education is a full-rounded thing and I’m very pleased with what Newhall does with integrating the arts into our lesson plans and showing through relevance,” Newhall district Governing Board President Phil Ellis said. “We try to make a lot of our stuff relevant to the Common Core and what the educational process is.”
The Newhall district’s completed survey indicated that 100 percent of schools offer music, 100 percent offer visual arts, 70 percent offer dance and 10 percent offer theater.
Schools in the district also work with six Community Arts Partners (CAPs), or teaching artists and organizations like the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center (PAC) at College of the Canyons that provide arts instruction to schools.
During after school hours, some of the district’s schools provide arts programs to students with 20 percent of schools offering visual arts, 10 percent offering media arts, 10 percent offering dance and 10 percent offering theatre.
One of the district’s most comprehensive arts offering is its music program that includes general music instruction and lessons and recorder, chorus classes and orchestra classes.
“We have a K through 6 music program that includes general music, choral music, instrumental music in fourth grade,” Superintendent Paul Cordeiro said. “The basis of our music program is the start of instrumental music with groups so it’s very specialized. We have a massive amount of students participating in music.”
To support this large program, the district has 9.2 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) music instructors, as well as a district-wide fundraising organization called the NSD Music Makers Parent Teacher Association (PTA).
“This elementary school program is more diverse and accessible than the programs offered in many of the local high schools. The music teachers are passionate and always go that extra mile for their students,” Music Makers PTA Vice President Rich Titus said. “Many students continue their participation by joining community chorus and orchestra groups because they received exposure to music in elementary school and want to continue.”
Instead of focusing on specific sites, the Music Makers PTA directs its attention to all of the district’s schools to support the growth of each site’s music program.
“We’re a small group of parents who want to do everything possible to ensure future students have this opportunity,” Music Makers PTA President Adrienne Platt said.
As it continues to operate, the district-wide PTA would like to see more parent participation in its program and hopes to donate at least $37,000 to the district this year.
The district also directs a lot of its attention to its visual arts program, with 3.6 FTE arts instructors and district-wide programs.
“We have two credentialed art teachers, like a person you would see in the high schools, and these people work with all of the schools,” Cordeiro said. “The art teachers also foster arts integration activities with the rest of the subjects they offer.”
The Newhall district also partners with the Kennedy Arts Center to provide its teachers with ongoing professional development in arts integration. This year, the district also received a grant from the LA County Arts Education Collection to support hip-hop instruction for all of its sixth grade students.
“What blows me away is some of the talent we have and what is out there and what younger kids can do once they have proper instruction, it’s amazing,” Ellis said. “At the high school level you would expect it, but here at the elementary level we have it, as well.”
As it continues to offer more students different arts subjects, the Newhall district has witnessed a correlation between increased test scores and advanced arts instruction.
“There are studies that show, particularly with math and music, that there is a correlation,” Ellis said. “People who are good in math are good in music, so if you can develop a love for music in a student, they can develop a love for math, as well.”
The district also continues to support and pursue the arts because of the positive impact it has on student moral and on student performance in the classroom.
“I can’t imagine what our achievement would look like if we took the arts away,” Cordeiro said. “If we took the arts away, I think we’d be taking away a whole bunch of kids’ motivation in the subjects.”
In the future, the district plans to integrate more theater instruction into its classrooms, especially with the addition of the Newhall Family Theater for the Performing Arts.
“The theater is a performance venue so our next mountain to climb with arts is theater arts,” Cordeiro said. “Out arts ambitions around theater arts will go along with our strategic approach with training and support for our teachers.”
The district’s Governing Board would also like to continue to expand all of the district’s offerings, so its student performance and outcomes continue to grow.
“I would like to see all of them mature, we have two full time arts instructors right now,” Ellis said. “Our music teachers are fantastic and all of our arts instruction is age appropriate and helps grow the whole child.”
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_