BSO funds creative bid to return arts to schools

April 22, 1995|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,Sun Staff Writer

Like recurring motifs in Wagnerian operas, lessons in the arts will be woven throughout the classes of a dozen Baltimore-area schools under a new six-year program sponsored by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Described as a way of "rethinking education," the arts-in-learning project, to be formally unveiled May 10, is based on the idea that music, dance and other arts enhance how children learn -- in every subject, from math to reading.

"The vision is that using music and other arts to teach will become a stimulus and a wakening tool for children," said John Gidwitz, executive director of the BSO.

Twelve schools -- six in the city public school system, three in the county and three private schools -- will be chosen next month to participate, said symphony officials. Elementary, middle and high schools will be represented. The program's cost and how it will be funded also will be announced then.

Called "Partnerships for Education," the program will integrate the arts into a variety of classes, and participating teachers will receive training. In-school musical performances also will be given.

For example, elementary school students might read a story, develop a play using its story lines, paint scenery illustrating it and then set it to music.

In addition, specially trained symphony musicians will work with teachers in the schools. Meanwhile, the symphony will continue giving educational performances, but will better correlate them with what's being taught in all the schools, said Linda Panitz, the BSO board member who heads the symphony's education committee.

"Arts are talked about as though they are some highbrow thing, but when you see children singing or dancing, does this seem alien to them? This is what children do naturally until adults teach them not to. We want to engage all of these activities in a whole range of educational situations," said Mr. Gidwitz.

Often the first to go when school budget cutbacks are necessary, arts lessons have suffered in recent decades from low prestige, low priority and little funding.

Subsequently, the symphony's announcement comes as educators increasingly voice concern that students deprived of arts classes are also deprived of important learning tools.

"The arts open up different ways of knowing and understanding and expressing, so for full development of a child's potential, the arts play a very critical role," said Larry Chamblin, spokesman for the state department of education. "By ignoring the arts we leave undeveloped much of what it means to be human and the ability to interact with our world." Three months ago, Maryland's Board of Education voted to include arts education in state standards of education, Mr. Chamblin said.

The BSO program was developed by Mitchell Korn, a New York education consultant, and is based on the notion that students taught through the arts learn better and stay interested longer.

Mr. Korn, who began a career in classical guitar and switched to education reform, runs an education consulting company called Artsvision. He has designed programs for the Bushnell Memorial Hall (a theater in Hartford, Conn.), the Milwaukee Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony. Earlier this year, he was hired by New York City to explore ways of restoring arts classes to that city's public schools.

Many of his clients say they're impressed.

In Hartford, the $3 million Artsvision program is in its second year and has been implemented in eight schools. "I think it's the best thing that has happened since motherhood, apple pie and ice cream," said Allan Jones, who chairs the department for the arts in the school system. "In education, if you can find those little hooks that turn kids on, that hold their attention, whatever the hook is, use it. And the arts are a natural hook," he said.

Last fall, Mr. Korn, who was hired by the symphony with a $38,000 grant from the Baltimore Community Foundation, completed a year-long report on arts education in the Baltimore area based on surveys and interviews.

According to the report, teachers and parents were concerned about the devaluing of arts education in schools. And educators wanted to incorporate the arts into their classes.

"Somewhere along the way we decided that arts aren't something that we can afford to have -- that they are frills," said Evelyn Chatmon, an assistant superintendent for the Baltimore County schools, who is a BSO board member.

"But we [as educators] have begun to recognize that we need to integrate the different subject areas so kids can see the relationships between them. So when you teach English and language arts, you teach music, and it is appropriate to weave in spelling and stories and drama, too."

Mr. Korn points to studies done by Harvard University researcher Howard Gardner showing that students who learn by rote often don't understand what or why they are learning. Subsequently, the students cannot apply lessons learned in one situation to other situations.

But children who learn -- whether math or drama -- through arts lessons learn to create, to express and to solve problems, Mr. Korn said. "Arts have always been a way to learn other things. Arts teach us about our cultures, our histories, our interactions with other cultures. . . . This is a project about education, not about music."

Though some arts lessons will begin next year in the 12 participating schools, the full BSO program will not begin until the fall of 1996, Mr. Korn said. Participating BSO musicians, teachers and Artsvision staff members will spend the intervening year developing the curriculum for each grade level.

The BSO program is designed to grow as new grades, new schools and possibly new cultural institutions become involved in it.

"It is designed to be a "model program," said Mr. Gidwitz. "The program is not proprietary -- it is designed to be cloned and elaborated and have many manifestations and therefore all who want to are invited to join in."

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