When the arts really do matter

Students thrive with a well-rounded curriculum, yet art-related teachers and classes are often the first to go in a school with a tight budget or for students who require extra time in the core content areas. Talented teachers figure out how to include music, drama and art into the daily reading, science, or math curriculum, and it can make lessons much more engaging and meaningful.

As a recent report (via EdWeek) highlighted, many schools struggle to keep their art teachers on staff (and sometimes understandably so, as it is difficult to justify removing an English teacher), but I was recently reminded of how important the arts are to education, especially for students in a high poverty school. I caught the tail-end of the Oscar’s this weekend, and after watching PS22 from Staten Island, NY perform Somewhere Over the Rainbow, I had to learn more about the school and the kids.

More than 70% of PS22’s students qualify for full or partial lunch assistance and the school is middle-of-the-pack performance-wise for NYC elementary schools. (Read more about the recent history of the chorus in a NY Magazine article. Also, on a side note: I’d be interested to see how their student performance changed since the launch of the chorus.)

PS22 is not an arts magnet school, it’s not a charter school, it’s a traditional New York City public school that happens to employ a committed and talented music teacher, Mr. B (Gregg Breinberg).

Mr. B started posting videos of the chorus on You Tube and thanks to a few high-profile fans, including Perez Hilton, the school flew into the public eye. Since being “discovered” famous recording artists and university acapella groups frequently visit the school to meet and sing with the chorus and the students have performed at concerts and events across the country.

All of their songs are amazing and some are downright moving. See their version of I’ll Stand by You by The Pretenders or John Lennon’s Imagine (in combination with Ithacappella).

Giving the students a reason to come to school; to want to do excel at school; to attend college (and keep singing during college); to expose the students to new people, places and experiences; to create an environment where being part of a chorus is a privilege and judgement free; to support the students unconditionally; to create a culture of pride for the rest of the school; and most importantly, to allow students the opportunity to find passion combine to create a compelling argument for why arts are necessary in the schools and why we need more teachers who recognize, commit to, and cultivate young talent.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: