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Arts Called Essential To Education In Hartford

By COLIN POITRAS, Courant Staff Writer

April 17, 2008

Educators need to know that teaching the arts in Hartford public schools is critical to improving student test scores and keeping kids engaged, capital region arts advocates said during a symposium Wednesday.

While much attention and funding has been focused on supporting core academic areas to improve school performance, using the arts helps teachers reach those students who might be struggling in class, several speakers said.

Acting out characters in a story or using music or art to convey a particular point during instruction can create a critical link that keeps a student focused or interested enough to keep coming to school, they said.

"When you find something that captures and hooks a child from their core, you won't have a problem trying to get them to buy into a particular math or reading program," said June Bernabucci, director of visual and performing arts for the Hartford school system. "They'll learn math or reading in spite of themselves because there is something that clicks."

Bernabucci was one of about 100 teachers, administrators and leaders in the Greater Hartford arts community who attended Wednesday's symposium at the University of Hartford, on the Hartford-West Hartford line. The program was sponsored by The Hartt School Community Division.

The focus was on "Equity of Access to Arts Education" and the panelists included Hartt Community Division Director Mark George; University of Hartford President Walter Harrison; and Linda J. Kelly, president of The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, which provides financial support to many local arts programs such as The Artists Collective Inc., Greater Hartford Arts Council and Real Art Ways Inc. The discussion was moderated by Courant Publisher Stephen D. Carver.

The timing of the discussion was critical, several people said, because Hartford school principals are in the process of setting their budgets for the next school year and the threat of arts instruction being sacrificed for other spending priorities is very real.

While some urged parents to get more involved and lobby for increased arts education, others took a broader approach, saying the school system and its members can't do it alone.

"I don't think we can look at a single entity to be the sole answer," Kelly said. Community-based organizations, local corporations, and state and municipal officials must recognize the importance of the arts in helping Hartford's schoolchildren work together, she said.

Some at the symposium raised the possibility of forming a regional task force while others said state or national legislation is needed to mandate arts education in local schools.

Haig Shahverdian, supervisor for fine and performing arts for West Hartford schools, said local schools can't wait for legislative action. Harrison agreed.

"We're slipping so far behind the rest of the world, we're not going to be able to see the bottom soon," Harrison said. " We don't have to do one or the other. Let's take the richness we have already and add to it. ... Let's not fight over a piece of the pie, let's talk about expanding the pie."

Pam Totten-Alvarado, principal of Hartford's Kinsella Magnet School for the Performing Arts, said 600 parents from the suburbs and 700 parents in Hartford have applied to get their children into her school, which only has 550 slots in pre-K to Grade 8. Students are flourishing in the program, she said, and the demand is there.

Carver said the impact of the arts in education has been impressive. At the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts, a college preparatory school run by the Capitol Region Education Council in Hartford, 97 percent of the students are going to attend college or continue their education after graduation and 18 percent will be the first in their family to attend college, he said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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