An Inside Perspective from CAP’s President & CEO

The Arts Prevent Summer Learning Loss

Between undergrad and graduate studies, I took six years off to work. I’ve never forgotten going back to grad school and realizing I had to catch up with my younger classmates who had just graduated from college. I had to refresh my memory and also learn how to study again.

Something similar happens to kids during the summer. The summer slide, as it is called, refers to the phenomenon of students starting a new school year behind where they were when they finished the previous school year. This is especially evident among lower-income children who are more likely to spend their summer vacation in unstructured activities than their more affluent peers who get to take advantage of a growing number of educational resources and experiences.

This is nothing new. In fact, studies have measured summer learning loss for over a century. According to the National Summer Learning Association, most lower-income children lose two months of math skills during summer vacation and up to three months of reading skills. When school resumes in the fall, nine out of 10 teachers must spend three whole weeks re-teaching material students learned the previous year.

These learning losses have a cumulative impact. By the time they reach fifth grade, lower-income students are two to three years behind their higher-income peers. When they enter high school, over half of the achievement gap can be attributed to summer learning loss during their elementary school years.
So how can we prevent the dreaded summer slide? A solution is readily available – providing structured learning through so-called summer camps and other summer learning programs.

Just as the arts are an essential part of a child’s K-12 schooling, so are arts learning opportunities essential for the summer break. Arts learning matters every single day. It develops important skills like creative thinking, perseverance and self-discipline that help students succeed.

And among many other lessons, arts education helps children learn how to learn. Through studying the arts, children develop the attitudes and skills that can make learning anything fun and, therefore, successful.

When children can see that dedication to learning and sustained attention to a goal helps them learn to play an instrument or perfect dance moves or act in character or create a piece of art, they come to realize they can approach their school work the same way.

Students experience in very real ways the truth that practice is necessary and that it pays off if they work hard enough. They learn that they can develop their abilities and get better at things they never thought they could do. This sense of self-efficacy, knowing that they can accomplish difficult things if they put their mind to it, will carry a child through school and through life. They develop the growth mindset that will set them up for success in school, on the job and in life.

Any subject or problem is more fun – and thereby more engaging – when you see yourself making progress and capable of continued progress. Short term, high-quality arts camps and programs are an excellent way for children to discover how to learn and have fun doing it. Not just in the summer, but all year long.


Camp Encore, presented by the Cathedral Arts Project, offers 6- to 11-year-olds the opportunity to discover new passions and grow their creativity. Campers of all experience levels will enjoy one-of-a-kind instruction in dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts, led by qualified teaching artists. CLICK HERE for more information or email


Your Brain on Arts

Americans of a certain age spend an estimated $1.3 billion annually on brain training games such as Lumosity as we grasp for anything that might slow the changes that occur as our brains get older. We invest time and money even though there is no real research to support the notion these exercises work.[i] What research does show time and time again, however, is that arts education accelerates positive brain development when started at a young age.

Anyone who thinks the arts are extraneous need only look at images of brain scans to find the strongest of evidence to the contrary. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans literally show one’s brain light up when participating in a visual or performing art form.

While a human brain changes throughout life, its development is front-loaded and will take on a different structure if engaged in arts learning from a young age. Our brains quadruple in size during the preschool years and reach 90% of adult volume by the age of 6. However, structural changes continue well through childhood and adolescence, largely in response to either enrichment or deprivation of inputs.

Music is typically the first thought that enters our minds when thinking of arts learning and brain development. And there’s good reason. Scientists believe music stimulates more areas of the brain than any other function and spurs different parts of the brain to communicate with one another.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

In the same way that weight lifting changes the shape of our muscles, musical training does the same to our brains – it changes its very structure. Neurological studies using fMRI have found a host of differences between the brains of those with musical training compared to those without, including the growth of the cerebellum, the size of certain areas of the brain, plasticity and the density of both white and gray matter. Whereas playing video games results in a loss of gray matter, playing musical instruments increases it.

In addition to these structural changes, music education influences networks in the brain associated with motor skills, cognitive processing and the so-called executive functions – the ability to concentrate, see a task through to completion, self-regulate and think ahead.[ii][iii][iv] A plethora of studies show a correlation between musical training and verbal and nonverbal reasoning, language learning and mathematics proficiency.

But it’s not just music. The brain looks and acts differently when engaged in any art form. Additionally, multiple studies show these changes that occur after arts training during childhood will stay with a person into adulthood.

An ounce of prevention is surely worth a pound of cure, but children can’t be responsible for ensuring their own access to quality arts education. That’s up to us, the adults. We owe it to today’s children whether they ask for it or not.

Even children who are no more interested in playing an instrument or drawing than they are in cleaning their rooms need these opportunities throughout their childhood. Their developing brains need the arts. They may not know it, but we do.

While we are right to worry about the impact of sports trauma on young brains, we should be equally worried about the deprivation of arts learning on those same brains. And we should do something about it while there is time. Because we can.

[i] No Effect of Commercial Cognitive Training on Brain Activity, Choice Behavior, or Cognitive Performance, Journal of Neuroscience, Joseph W. Kable, M. Kathleen Caulfield, Mary Falcone, Mairead McConnell, Leah Bernardo, Trishala Parthasarathi, Nicole Cooper, Rebecca Ashare, Janet Audrain-McGovern, Robert Hornik, Paul Diefenbach, Frank J. Lee and Caryn Lerman, 2 August 2017, Vol. 37, Issue 31.

[ii] Coyle, D. (2009). The talent code: Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown. Here’s how. New York, NY: Bantam.

[iii] Hutchinson, S., Lee, L., gaab, N., & Schlaug, G. (2003). Cerebelllar volume of musicians. Cerebral Cortex, 13(9), 9437-949.

[iv] Wan., C., & Schlaug, G. (2013). Brain plasticity induced by musical training. In D. Deutsch (Ed.), The psychology of music (pp. 565-581). Waltham, MA: Elsevier.

Achievement in the Arts: Celebrating Creative Thinkers

Imagine a world where every weekend parents and grandparents spend hours cheering on a child’s efforts in dance, music, theatre or the visual arts. Imagine a world where a family’s excitement over a child’s A in an arts class mirrors that of an A in math or their child scoring the winning goal in soccer. Imagine a world where families encourage their children to work as hard in the arts as they do in other subjects or sports.

Hard to imagine? Why?

Most individuals readily accept data showing a host of benefits to children who study dance music, theatre and/or the visual arts. The problem is they don’t think it applies to their child. Unless their child is exceptionally talented, they don’t think spending time in the arts is as worthwhile as other endeavors.

Too often, this leads to parents indulging their child’s interest in the arts to a small extent, but never with the purposefulness it deserves and with nowhere near the level of engagement they demonstrate when a child works hard in other subjects or plays a sport.

But achievement in an art form is like achievement in anything else – when kids are challenged to perform better and work at it, they show improvement. Most children are not gifted at math but are taught early on that they must at least become proficient in it. It should be the same with the arts.

Estimates are that only 1 in 10,000 individuals have perfect pitch – the ability to identify or sing a musical note without the aid of any reference tone. It has long been believed you’re either born with this ability or you’re not.

This is typical of how people feel about the arts in general. Either the arts come naturally, or one shouldn’t waste their time. This myth of natural talent leads to children (and adults) thinking they can’t draw or play an instrument unless it comes easily. This is the very antithesis of the growth mindset needed to succeed in life. Never would we take that approach to science, math or reading. Of course, it takes hard work.

In 2014, Ayako Sakakibara released results of a longitudinal study showing she was able to teach children to identify notes by pitch. Some children picked it up more quickly than others, but every single child was eventually able to develop this ability, even if it took years.

That is not to say talent or a predisposition to excel at something doesn’t exist. It does. And it explains why some students were able to develop perfect pitch more quickly than others. But disposition is not destiny.

Children who are not prodigies in the arts can still learn and grow. Many of those without natural talent will still, over time, achieve remarkable things.

Parents discount the arts because they care about their children and are afraid they are wasting their time, but that’s not the case. All the data shows that. Not only does studying the arts benefit a student during the K-12 education, but these benefits continue leading to both higher rates of college enrollment and graduation. And yes, even scholarships are available for merit in an art form.

Hardly any students who play youth sports will receive college scholarships. Of those that do, many will give up their scholarship after one or two years. Of those that continue, only a very small fraction will go on to play professional sports.

Does this mean youth sports are a waste of time? Absolutely not. But it does provide a point of comparison.

We have a robust pipeline in this country to develop athletes, even though it is not a path to a career. We need a pipeline to develop creative thinkers and problem solvers. Studying the arts does this and can lead to a multitude of careers.

When we fail to encourage the development of the skills required to produce in each art form, we leave unrecognized potential on the table that can be used in many fields. There are real consequences to not recognizing the gravity of arts learning.

The arts matter – they provide the most essential of skills, like creative thinking, perseverance and self-discipline, that benefit all people in all areas of their lives.

We all want our children to succeed to make their mark on the world. So, let’s get serious about encouraging them to do just that.

The Northeast Florida Art Educators Association hosted the 7th annual Northeast Florida Scholastic Art Awards on Saturday, February 3, 2018. CAP is honored to again host the Gold and Silver Key portfolio winners in the Heather Moore Community Gallery.

The exhibition features the work of 44 Gold Key and 34 Silver Key portfolio winners that were selected from more than 2,868 submissions by students in Clay, Duval, Nassau, St. Johns and Volusia counties.

These students are being recognized for their accomplishments in the visual arts, but many will receive scholarships to partnering institutions like Savannah College of Art and Design, Jacksonville University, University of North Florida and New Hampshire Institute of Art. In 2017, the Northeast Florida Scholastic Art Awards was able to offer $5.1 million in scholarships to regional individual and portfolio winners. In addition, the works of Gold Key winners will progress to national adjudication where their work may earn a place at the ceremony at Carnegie Hall where national medals, scholarships and inclusion in a national traveling exhibition will be awarded.

Arts Education and Civil Rights: Can the Arts Improve Race Relations?

No one is born a racist, but it doesn’t take long to develop racial and ethnic biases. By the time children are 3 years old, they can recognize differences in skin color and other physical traits. By the time they are 5, children can already develop negative biases toward others based on these differences. By the time children are in middle school, these biases have likely been reinforced by those around them and/or what they see or read online such that bias becomes the default lens through which they see others. 

There is room to debate how the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned his dream to be realized so that children would, in fact, be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. There is room to debate how much progress we in the United States have made toward this vision. But there is no room to debate that racial tension is more pronounced now than at any time since the Civil Rights Movement. American children of color are experiencing more harassment and anxiety than they have in generations.

One factor contributing to this animosity is the increasing segregation of K-12 schools. According to the Government Accountability Office, from 2000 to 2014, the number of K-12 public schools that were high-poverty and comprised of mostly African American or Hispanic students almost doubled from 9 percent to 16 percent. The number of students attending these quasi-segregated schools more than doubled. And the increasingly popular charter schools are the most segregated of all.  

It’s hard not to attribute the resurgence of racism among young white students at least in part to the increasing segregation in K-12 education. If children do not grow up and learn alongside peers who represent diversity of culture, race and ethnicity, how can they possibly determine the content of their character? All they have to go by are default stereotypes and biases formed, in many cases, before kindergarten.  

But the good news is that even though children develop negative biases quickly, once they are exposed to diversity, those prejudices can be unlearned. Arts education is an incredibly viable way to combat prejudice, especially when works of artists from diverse backgrounds are given equal billing in the curriculum on an ongoing basis throughout the school year. 

Nothing more aptly defines what it means to be human than our creative potential. So how better to encounter and learn about others’ character than studying the output of their creative thinking? Because in life as in the arts, there is always more than meets the eye.  

In the visual arts, students learn to look beyond surface impressions and examine formal elements and technique, as well as concepts and possible meanings – its character. Similarly, an individual trained as a musician hears more during a symphony performance than someone who hears only the top-line melody. They hear the character of the composition. It stands to follow that studying the work of diverse artists is at least a start toward developing a deeper understanding of diverse others.  

Through works of art that reflect the creative thinking of diverse peoples, children come to see their story from different perspectives. They also learn the stories of others from diverse backgrounds. The arts help children look more closely at both our differences and that which we have in common.  

As we remember Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this month, let us consider how race relations would improve if a critical mass of students engaged in ongoing study of the works of artists, musicians, dancers and playwrights of color. At the very least, they could use the arts as a stepping stone to walk toward those they may not walk toward on the playground. 

A Champion for the Arts: Jacksonville’s Superintendent Search

Policies at the district, state and federal levels all speak to the critical importance of quality arts education if we have any hope of preparing students to succeed in school and in life. What the children who attend Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) need now is a superintendent who will bring those aspirations to life and make arts learning central – not only in theory, but also in the reality of students’ daily lives.

The selection of a new superintendent for DCPS will have profound impact for years, possibly generations, to come. I am so encouraged by the School Board’s draft of a new strategic plan, which starts off right out of the gate with a goal to “promote student engagement through safe, nurturing and enriching learning environments.”

This is important because what stands out when one analyzes education systems in countries where students routinely out-perform American students and where there is less of an achievement gap among children of different socioeconomic backgrounds is that all these other countries make arts learning central to the school day every day. They utilize the arts to effectively promote student engagement.

As Yeats so beautifully put it, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” That’s what arts education does. Learning in the arts lights a fire and engages children in their studies, teaching them how to think, analyze and problem-solve.

The district’s new superintendent will set the tone when it comes to what is prioritized in a school day not only by what is messaged as important, but also by what is shown to be important by the allotment of resources – teachers, supplies, space and time for arts learning in every student’s schedule every day.

Our community’s children deserve a superintendent who understands what research shows time and time again – that #TheArtsAddUp to increased graduation rates, a stronger economy and more creative individuals equipped to solve the challenges of tomorrow both in the workplace and our civic life together.

Our children deserve a superintendent who understands why they desperately need an arts-rich education that includes not only visual arts and music, but also dance, theatre and media arts. Our children deserve dynamic learning environments that engage them and draw from all their intelligences.

The School Board’s draft strategic plan also calls for the district to “expand and improve well-rounded opportunities for the development of the whole child.” Federal education law embodied in the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act presents a tremendous opportunity to follow the lead of other countries who are surpassing us by systemically including arts learning in every child’s day. The concept of a well-rounded education, which surely includes the arts, is referenced more than 20 times and included in most of the specific Titles in the Act.

What our children need now is a superintendent who will leverage the possibilities provided by this law and other policies; who will stand up against the “STEM above all else” mentality; and who will advocate, budget, schedule and provide for increased and quality arts learning.

Please join me in helping our School Board bring such a leader to Duval County. Click here to provide feedback and help define the leadership profile of the next superintendent.

Photo credit: Susan Edelman

Arts Education for Juvenile Offenders

Actions have consequences. This truth underlay the “tough on crime” stance I long held toward youth involved in the criminal justice system. But once I saw the difference arts education could make in their lives through our programming at the Cathedral Arts Project, I realized there’s more to the story.

At CAP our vision is for every child to have access to an arts-rich education. “Every child” includes those accused, rightly or wrongly, of criminal activity.

CAP’s programs provide these young people a non-threatening outlet for self-awareness, reflection and expression. Whether they are learning about art history, color theory and technique in visual arts, or body, energy and time in dance, they are learning so much more. We emphasize communication and social skills, nonviolent self-expression and new avenues for coping in difficult environments. They develop new ways of thinking about life from perspectives behind, within and beyond the time and space they currently inhabit. They imagine possibilities of a second chance.

Yes, actions have consequences. Not only their actions, but also ours collectively. Most youth who become part of the justice system experience trauma before, during and after, which often compounds mental illness. Estimates of the prevalence of mental illness among justice-involved youth are as high as 70 percent overall and 80 percent for girls.[i] Our justice system is simply not equipped to provide these children the treatment they need. In fact, whether the justice system is even set up for successful rehabilitation is debatable.

An investigation by the Miami Herald reported that Florida’s juvenile justice system adds new trauma to troubled youth. “With a one-year recidivism rate of 45 percent, it is a justice system that is supposed to reform juvenile delinquents, but too often turns them into hardened felons.”[ii] In the Fourth Circuit, State Attorney Melissa Nelson wants to write a different story so that more youth can be successfully reintegrated into society and transition to adulthood. Nelson created a Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee to develop programming that will reduce recidivism rates and crime.

What we and many others have found is that the arts reach these kids when nothing else has. Corrections Officer Eric Wesley with the Jacksonville Sherriff’s Office witnessed the difference our arts program made at the John E. Goode Pre-Trial Detention Facility. “Coming to this class gives them [the students] the opportunity, literally, just to be themselves. ‘I don’t have to be tough in this class, I just need to be me. I don’t have to walk around and act like nothing bothers me. I’m able to now express myself through art.’ And I think that’s the most important thing – them being able to realize, ‘Hey, it’s okay for you to be who you are.’”

That’s because they, like all of us, are creators at our core. Every child is born with the capacity to make positive contributions to society. Sometimes, it takes the arts to ignite that spark. The arts hold the power to transform – to transform feeling, to transform thinking, to transform doing. Through arts education, these children move to a place where they can experience that transformation and learn at an entirely different level.

Yet even as they learn, it is equally true we have much to learn as well.

The most important lesson is that we can’t write off youth involved in the justice system. Actions have consequences, including our own individual actions. And we are just as responsible for our actions as anyone else is for theirs. For those of us who believe the creative process underlies our very existence, we must remember that we are called to help one another discover and steward that creative capacity and that none of us are ever finished products. Reams of research during the last 30 years especially demonstrate that young brains simply have not had time to develop the same cognitive, psychological, social or neurological capacities that adults typically possess.

In Graham v. Florida (2010), the U.S. Supreme Court wrote, “Juveniles are more capable of change than adults, and their actions are less likely to be evidence of ‘irretrievably depraved character’ than are the actions of adults…from a moral standpoint it would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater possibility exists that a minor’s character deficiencies will be reformed.”

In life and in art, actions have consequences. But while we usually arrive at a finished product in the arts, that is never the case when it comes to life, especially the life of a young person. There is always another chapter to be written. There is always another move to make. The question is, which direction will you take?

*For more information, visit

Images: County Missives, Joe Karably

[i] Shufelt, J. L. & Cocozza, J. L. (2006). Youth with mental health disorders in the juvenile justice system: Results from a multi-state prevalence study. National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice.

[ii] Fight Club: A Miami Herald Investigation into Florida’s Juvenile Justice System.


Arts Education: A Lesson in Civility

October 2, 2017
Kimberly L. Hyatt, President & CEO

The average life span of great civilizations is 215 years.[i] A first-rate arts education is one of the best means left to save our American experiment, now 241 years old. I’ve come to this conclusion over 15 years working with the Cathedral Arts Project, an organization whose mission is to enrich our quality of life through unleashing the creative spirit of young people.

When I first took this role, I didn’t give much weight to how the arts bolster our ability to see the world from other perspectives. Back then, the ways arts education improved academic achievement was top of mind. I assumed the increasing diversity of our society would automatically generate broader understanding and mutual respect. I was wrong.

Today, my perspective has changed. I have witnessed firsthand the transformative power of the arts for students, families and our community. Students who participate regularly in the arts show marked improvement in class participation, task completion, peer communication, and conflict management – but they also gain the insights, empathy and language needed to understand each other and, just as important, to understand themselves. As we celebrate National Arts & Humanities Month, it is my hope that the unique potential of arts education will help us achieve our country’s promise of E pluribus unum – out of many, one.

Seventy eight percent of Americans believe incivility and political dysfunction prevent our nation from moving forward.[ii] A meta-analysis of 72 studies of 14,000 American college students between 1979 and 2009 revealed a drop of 40% in empathy scores.[iii] Since most of the drop occurred after 2000, the decline is undoubtedly steeper today.

It’s hard not to see a possible correlation between these findings and decreased access to arts education over the past several decades. Arts education has the potential, like nothing else, to mold both brains and hearts and open us to meaningful encounters where we look to not only our own interests, but also the interests of others.

Students in CAP’s ARTS Ignite! afterschool program begin each class by reciting a creed that involves five promises, the first of which is to “respect others and their ideas as I respect myself.” For our democracy to flourish, we must revive our ability to reason together and not merely tolerate, but respect one another – no matter what. As John Dewey put it, “Imagination is the chief instrument of the good.” How we treat another person and their ideas, he noted, is dependent upon our power to put ourselves “imaginatively” in another’s place.[iv]

In contrast, what lesson are we teaching our children when they see us unfriend someone on Facebook simply because we disagree with a post? That their perspective has no value? That they do not deserve our friendship, much less our respect?

While we can homogenize the opinions that show up on our social media feeds, living together peaceably and productively in the real world is only going to get more challenging. If Census Bureau estimates hold, in just 27 years, one-time minority groups will comprise the majority of Americans.

Arts education demands that we study what life looks like, sounds like, and feels like for others. It provides a structure to come together while holding different perspectives. In theatre, we walk in another person’s shoes. In visual arts, we study familiar images from unfamiliar perspectives. We learn to pause and look deeper rather than defaulting to lazy, habitual ways of seeing.

There is always another perspective, another interpretation, another form. Students learn not only through their own cognition and creative process, but also through their peers.

Arts education promotes ways of thinking that support curiosity and openness. As we grow older and become set in our ways, this shift can often feel like too much. But if we encourage children to think this way – before rigid, binary ways of seeing the world in black and white take hold – it’s a mindset that will stay with them the rest of their lives.

Furthermore, through arts education, we learn the important life skill of critique. Can you imagine what it would be like if a critical mass of us knew how to give and receive respectful, constructive feedback? It would surely be a significant step forward in our life together where basic human decency is often hard to spot.

While a healthy democracy requires strong convictions and healthy debate, it requires much more. Arts education is the key. Aristotle said we need art because we have not lived enough. The arts can reposition us in others’ worlds, or even our own, long enough to glimpse something we hadn’t noticed before. And that just might be our salvation – as individuals and as a civilization.

[i] Samuel Arbesman, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

[ii] National Institute for Civil Discourse, The University of Arizona, 2017.

[iii] Changes in Dispositional Empathy in American College Students Over Time: A Meta-Analysis,” Sara Konrath, University of Michigan, 2010.

[iv] John Dewey, Art as Experience, p. 362

Arts Integration: An Education Reform Strategy Business Should Back


September 5, 2017
Kimberly L. Hyatt, President & CEO

As 129,000 Duval County Public Schools students embark upon a new school year, laments about the poor quality of public education ring out as familiar as ever. Despite business interests and others funding countless reform efforts since the 1983 publication of “A Nation at Risk,”[i] the gap between educational outcomes of children from lower- and higher-income families, by many measures, has widened across the country.

A glimmer of hope appears in recent research out of Northwestern University that examines the larger school districts in Florida. The results present reason to trust that demographics are not destiny. Why? Because individual schools within Florida’s districts vary dramatically at closing the achievement gap.[ii] It’s not easy, but it’s possible.

One way to help students from all socioeconomic backgrounds learn is to treat them like the creative thinkers they are. In the midst of political polarization around education reform, there should be easy consensus that integrating the arts when learning other subjects works wonders and is cost-effective.

In arts integration, students connect an art form with another subject area and learn both. It’s not simply playing background music or doing a craft project. It’s about treating music, dance, theatre, media arts and visual arts as inherently valuable and then integrating these disciplines when learning science, math and other subjects.

Illustration courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Maya Angelou is often quoted for saying, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Well, we know better – yet we continue to teach children as if we don’t understand how they learn. Whatever the reason for this, it’s surely not because arts integration is too expensive or too experimental.

Turnaround Arts is a federal initiative to integrate arts learning into some of the nation’s lowest performing schools. In its first three years, Turnaround Arts demonstrated a 13 percent improvement in reading scores and a whopping 23 percent improvement in math scores.[iii]

Closer to home, the Cathedral Arts Project offers a theatre and civics integration program for middle schoolers. In end-of-course exams, 100 percent of students in the integration program were proficient, compared to only 46 percent and 78 percent in the control groups for 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, respectively. This is the remarkable difference arts integration can make – whether it’s in civics, math, science or language arts.

With arts integration, learning is not about students passively receiving information. It’s about what happens in their minds as they interact with information and with one another to solve problems. It’s about connecting the dots, applying knowledge from one subject to another and discovering innovative solutions. You know, the kind of work they’ll be called upon to do the rest of their lives.

Employers routinely report difficulty finding job candidates skilled at problem solving and innovative thinking. To the extent workforce development is one of the goals of education, wouldn’t it make sense to help students develop these skills? We can’t expect individuals to magically know how to analyze a problem from different perspectives just because they start to draw a paycheck. These habits of mind must be taught from the earliest years and throughout their education.

Regurgitating information no longer predicts success. In a world of infinite data anyone can retrieve from a phone, memorizing is not the way to demonstrate intelligence. What we need is what we have always needed – individuals who use their minds to think analytically as they tenaciously engage with a problem. To persevere in problem solving, one must be self-motivated and engaged, and there is nothing that engages our brains like the arts.[iv]

That’s one reason arts integration is a perfect way to address the achievement gap. The arts help children – all children – love school. Low-income students who are highly engaged in the arts are twice as likely to actually graduate from college as their peers with little or no arts education.[v]

Granted, integration must be done right. The greatest academic improvement occurs when students are engaged in integrated learning over successive years. Teachers need effective training, autonomy and support from principals. Arts teachers need principals who demonstrate by word and deed that the arts will not take a back seat at their school. And it must be research based.

Any Given Child Jacksonville and the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville are working with DCPS to implement arts integration in four schools. Through the support of PNC Bank and David Engdahl, the Lift Every Student program is embedding a local artist in each of these schools: Lucy Chen at John Love Early Learning Center, Valarie Esguerra at Hyde Park Elementary School, Sarah Crooks at Hyde Grove Early Learning Center, and Erin Kendrick at Smart Pope Livingston Elementary School. These artists in residence will work with classroom teachers to integrate the arts into other subjects so that students will get to experience and work with information rather than passively receive it. And when kids experience knowledge, it takes hold in their minds – minds that were created with the capacity to astound.

When all is said and done, there are only a few things we need to get right in life – educating children is one of those things.

Arts integration is a proven and cost-effective strategy on which people on both sides of the aisle should agree. It’s an area ripe for public-private partnerships. We’ve tried one reform effort after another and still have a crisis in education. It’s time we turn to the arts.

[i] United States. National Commission on Excellence in Education. Department of Education. A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform: A Report to the Nation and the Secretary of Education, United States Department of Education. Washington, D.C.: The Commission: [Supt. of Docs., U.S. G.P.O. distributor], 1983.

[ii] Some schools much better than others at closing achievement gaps between their advantaged and disadvantaged students. David Figlio and Krzysztof Karbownik. Evidence Speaks Reports, Vol 2, #19 July 20, 2017. Center on Children and Families. Brookings Institution.

[iii] Turnaround Arts Initiative: Summary of Key Findings

[iv]An Impact Evaluation of Arts-Integrated Instruction Through the Changing Education Through the Arts (CETA) Program, The Kennedy Center, 2014.

[v] Americans for the Arts, 2015.