Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Don't Part With Art

Last week I discovered that a friend of mine lives alone in an apartment in midtown Manhattan (at age 16) while the rest of her family lives in Pennsylvania. She gets along well with her mother and sister and misses them a lot, so I wondered why she wasn’t living with them. Her answer was totally unexpected: She wanted to stay at our high school, LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and the Performing Arts.


In a constantly trashed (usually with good reason) public high school system, why would a public high school cause a 16-year-old to live by herself, miles away from her family? Well, this answer was less unexpected: Acting. My friend is a drama major and her passion for acting wouldn’t allow her to pass up the opportunities that LaGuardia offers. Hearing that definitely made me even more worried that arts education will be threatened by ever-increasing budget cuts. The one thing that inspires so much passion from students is the one thing constantly being taken away.

I see students working harder in their studios at LaGuardia than any other subject of school or life. Students stay until 11:00 at night rehearsing for the musical, putting together an art gallery, working out a jazz arrangement to a piece they composed or choreographing a dance for the talent show. And it’s not just the classic high-achievers who stay late. In fact, the studios at my school do an unbelievable job of uniting students with different grades and attitudes toward school, as well as different races and places in life.

Education activists, teachers, and parents often wonder how they can deal with students who are apathetic towards school and learning. I know for a fact that many kids at my school get up each day mostly for their studio classes. The arts put failing students in center stage and allow them to achieve beyond anything expected of them in any of their classes. Students who struggle in math put their passion into music, drama, dance, visual arts, whatever it is- and find that, as our country just discovered (!!!), yes, they can.