I’ve been fortunate to have had many wonderful teachers in my life, including Joe Marrella, who produced one of the most influential shows I participated in – a production of Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses. I still remember it fondly almost a decade later, because it was not just a high school theater show. Marrella challenged us to dig deeper into our characters, to see real life, current events connections to the play’s themes of love and greed that are universal. Yes, it was the arts, but it taught me that dramaturgy – really in depth research (the likes of which are done in any profession from journalism to opera to the scientific fields) – is vital to a successful performance.
I received an even greater sense of the importance of the arts in education when I started working as a journalist for LA Opera, just in time for Opera Camp. Today’s headlines are filled with stories of inequality, injustice and hate. Understanding our role in changing the world can be daunting. Through our annual Opera Camp program, LA Opera not only gives kids 9-17 the experience of staging an operatic performance, but also connects campers to the past and to today’s toughest issues. It brings context to headlines and shows them their impact on the world. (This past summer, campers got to visit the Japan-America National Museum, while working on The White Bird of Poston, an opera set in a WWWII Japanese internment camp.)
This further proved to me (and to those involved) that the arts are vital to raising well-rounded, socially conscious children.
That’s a word that sticks out to me, particularly in light of President Obama’s signing of a New Education Bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). It aims to provide all elementary and secondary students with fair and equal opportunities to achieve a high quality education, and these provisions for arts education will ensure that all students, including those in high poverty schools, have the opportunity to access arts education. This replaces the current national educational law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), previously known as “No Child Left Behind.”
ESSA is a coup for the nation’s Arts Educators, as the arts are included in the definition of a “well-rounded education.” Under “No Child Left Behind,” the arts were listed as part of the national core-curriculum. However, they were never tested, and thus, frequently set aside in order to accommodate the requirements of testing in other subjects. ESSA’s push for a “well-rounded” child suggests a move towards subjects – including the arts – to be more integrated than ever. It also removes the sharp focus “No Child Left Behind” put on student test scores, when evaluating teachers and schools.
Other key provisions of ESSA also further support access to arts education, including:
- The arts are included in the definition of a “well-rounded education.” Well-rounded subjects are specified as eligible uses of Title I funds, the largest pool of federal resources dedicated to ensuring equitable access to a complete education for all students.
- ESSA retains the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program which supports afterschool, out of school, and summer learning programs. These are key areas in which arts organizations partner with schools to support student learning in the arts.
- Arts education programs and projects are eligible for funding through the new Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant Program
- Programs supported by the current Arts in Education program at the U.S. Dept. of Education are retained as the Assistance for Arts Education Program.
With ESSA, I hope that in the years to come more kids throughout the nation can have the same singularly life changing theater and opera experiences that I’ve been fortunate enough to have. We can’t wait to welcome these kids in the hallways of LA Opera someday…
Karen Bacellar is a filmmaker and Content Specialist at LA Opera. She writes for and edits the Company’s blog.