Over the past three decades, studies on arts integration into classrooms and its relationship with the development of the cognitive mind have brought promising possibilities. Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, a nationally renowned cognitive neuroscientist, said at a recent conference, “We know that the brain has a system of neuropathways dedicated for attention….We know that training these attention networks improves general measures of intelligence. We can be fairly sure that focusing our attention on learning and performing an art, if we practice frequently and are truly engaged, activates these same attentional networks. We, therefore, would expect focused training in the arts to improve cognition generally”
He explained that by focusing on something art related, we open up a chamber in our brains that allows us to retain information thoroughly. This supports the idea of teaching the basics, such as math and geography, with some form of art involved is beneficial.
Baltimore City Schools aren’t known to have the strongest curriculums, causing them to fall short when competing against others in the nation. Studies have proven however that incorporating art into classroom learning doesn’t just change your brain, it can change your life’s trajectory.
Growing up in Baltimore isn’t easy. Technology, music and art have become an outlet for many, but only in their personal lives. Instead of deflecting technology, it may prove to be more beneficial to find ways to safely incorporate it in the education system.
More than 800 Baltimore City elementary school students learned about fractions with music and improved their vocabulary through dance this past summer. The arts integration program had teachers and artists pair up to teach concepts around literacy and math from a different perspective.
“While home computer access has traditionally been a barrier, the ease of access to smartphone technology can help bridge the technology divide,” said Lindsay Sullivan, director of literacy, languages and culture to Technically Baltimore.
There are some schools in the city that have incorporated the arts into their teachings. Roland Park Elementary/Middle School is one of them. This kindergarten-through-eighth-grade urban public school serves a diverse population and ranks among the top schools in Maryland in academic achievement. They organize their arts programming in three different sections: Arts Education, Arts Experiences, and Arts Integration.
Studies have also shown that special needs children can benefit from the arts in significant ways. According to Arts Education in Maryland Schools (AEMS) Alliance and a Compendium they published, about eight percent of all elementary and secondary education students are enrolled in special education programs. Among these children, a majority of them have designated learning disabilities (2.2 million out of 4.3 million special education students).
Areas around the country are taking steps to integrate the arts into their teaching methods at many of their schools. In nearby Prince George’s County, the district’s arts integration initiative, which is already established in 41 of the counties schools, just expanded into 15 others, for a total of 56.
“We have a generation before us that was taught to think in black and white and look where we are now. I feel like if for no other reason it’s time to release the brain, open that box and allow people to think. Art integration is the way to do that,” said Renaire Rivers Jr., assistant band director at Largo High School. “Take the phone out your pocket and lets use it.”
The ultimate goal is that arts integration will help improve student achievement, test scores, graduation and college acceptance rates.
Zanha Armstrong is an intern in the Baltimore office at the AFRO American. She is a student at Morgan State University.