Music ed paves well-rounded pathway to success

One of our elementary students recently stood before an audience of school district superintendents and other education leaders. She and her classmates had just concluded a musical performance. She told the audience she used to be shy. She used to have few friends. She would never dream of standing in front of others to give a speech about the arts. Yet, there she was that day—confident, articulate, and impassioned. She shared about the benefits of music education, experienced by her and her many friends in the orchestra.

What changed in her? She began participating in her school’s music education program. It helped her find her voice, she said. It changed her life.

As superintendent, I know that educating our children means more than preparing them to take tests.  It involves cultivating their creativity, thoughtfulness, and ability to collaborate. These skills enable them to succeed, not just in school but in life.

That is why our Board of Education decided last June to commit more than $15 million over three years to hire Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) teachers. The arts instruction helps free classroom teachers for collaboration and planning time. The arts push is part of the District’s Local Control and Accountability Plan. I appreciate the Board’s wisdom in making the arts a priority, and we have noticed the difference that has made across our system.

As Board President Eduardo Reyes, Ed.D., noted, “This was about prioritizing, and maximizing the dollars that we have. The release time allows teachers to plan lessons, attend professional development, and observe model lessons. The arts instruction allows students to foster their creative and critical-thinking skills in keeping with the objectives of the new state standards.”

The Board’s decision was an outcome of a five-year collaboration with the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory to rebuild arts education and pathways to music after a long absence in our District.

What are the results of the arts investment to date?

We’ve hired more than 70 VAPA teachers in CVESD since last June. Our kinder through sixth grade students now receive instruction in music, theater, dance, and visual or media arts. We have more than 22,000 students participating in music education alone. In the school year that just ended, there were 105 performances held across San Diego County in all disciplines. The whole family will come to see a student perform. And when families are on our campus, that’s the opening act. Their attendance is a window into drawing them into our schools, and letting them know how important they are to our mission in educating the whole child.

Our Board’s investment in arts education has drawn national attention to San Diego County, and the impact we are having on student learning.

Last spring, the California Alliance for Arts Education—in collaboration with the Youth Symphony, Arts for Learning San Diego, and the San Diego County Office of Education—shone a bright light on the programs in our schools through the “Arts Education Learning Exchange.” The conference of arts educators and arts organizations shared best practices and strategies to restore the arts in other school districts throughout California and the nation.

“Seeing students in the classroom demonstrating their learning by showing their artwork, their movement, and rhythm will long be remembered,” said one attendee.

Said another, “It is possible for the arts to be brought back in a meaningful and important way!”

Our investment has in turn deepened our extensive network of partners and supporters, from the City of Chula Vista to the VH1 Save the Music Foundation. This school year, the foundation will provide $35,000 worth of instruments to each of four CVESD schools. This will boost the total to 13 schools in our District that will have received VH1 Save the Music Foundation grant support.

We have demonstrated that a well-rounded education can include the arts. At CVESD, we are providing a pathway for students to create deeper meaning, develop their minds, and college and career readiness. Our teachers have nurtured and supported students’ creative talent as well as enhanced students’ social and emotional intelligences. Infused with these skills and insights, we are producing children who will make the world a better place.

Escobedo is superintendent  of the Chula Vista Elementary School District.