As we enter yet another school year, we take time to reflect on the role of education in our lives and how it has contributed to making us the people we are today. The research is undeniable: when schools and communities embrace the arts — dance, music, theatre, visual and media arts — students benefit, educators are more effective, and learning communities are revolutionized.

Designated by Congress in 2010, National Arts in Education Week is a celebration of the transformative power of the arts in education. This year, we will be celebrating here in the High Country from Sept. 10-16, and I encourage all supporters of arts, culture, and education, as well as our elected officials and education leaders, to join with us!

As we have seen in the news lately, our country, our state, and our community are facing challenges unlike any we have seen before. When intertwining the arts in and through education, research shows that we are better preparing our future leaders to face these challenges. According to a decades — long study, students who participate in the arts during their middle school years are more likely to be civically engaged than their peers who did not have arts education; meaning, they are more likely to vote, more likely to volunteer in their community, and more likely to sit on the board of a nonprofit organization as an adult. Additionally, we know that the arts also help our young people facing the greatest challenges. For over a decade, states and communities across the nation have been using the arts as an intervention in Title I schools to great success. Additionally, data shows that English Language Learners, students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and students facing school discipline benefit greatly from arts learning.

As we celebrate National Arts in Education Week, we should take pause to cheer for our artistic accomplishments, but we should also remember the work we have to do. National data reveals that access to arts education and its benefits are often limited to wealthy communities. So often, disadvantaged young people — particularly students of color — have no access to arts education. How can our district help provide equitable opportunities for all of our young people? How can we use the new law to create arts—rich schools? How can we support parents, families, and the community in providing more opportunities for engagement?

It’s up to us, the arts education community, to take a stand and take the lead, and we can start during National Arts in Education Week.

Keith Martin, ASU professor of theater

Tom Mayer is the executive editor of Mountain Times Publications, a group of five news newspapers, six websites and one monthly periodical in the High Country of North Carolina.

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