NEWARK, NJ - Arts education in the Newark Public School District is getting a boost for the 2019-2020 school year.
The Newark Board of Education hired over 25 Visual and Performing Arts teachers. The positions include all four disciplines: drama, music, theater and visual arts.
“We’re making sure that as we budget for the next fiscal year, that we have in every one of our schools, not only an art teacher but a music teacher,” León promised in June. “We understand that we have a lot of work in our classrooms to be a whole lot better.”
The 25 new teachers gathered to develop plans and explore extra-curricular resources. Music educators attended an intensive two-week training during the summer.
All districts in New Jersey are required to have regular sequential arts instruction in the four arts disciplines.
“We are excited to know that more of our students will be able to experience and achieve basic literacy in multiple art forms at the K-5 level and the opportunity to achieve competency and mastery in at least one art form from grades 6 through 12,” said Margaret El, Director of Visual and Performing Arts.
One of the district’s goals is to build instrumental programs in elementary and middle schools for music learning.
The district has a growing city-wide music concert that any school within the district can participate in. Over the last three years, the number participating in middle school bands or orchestras in the city-wide music concert grew from six schools to 14.
A five-year grant awarded by VH1 Save The Music Foundation in 2017, helped the district's music program grow quickly by investing in music instruments that the district would not be able to purchase otherwise.
“VH1 has served as an advocacy tool within the district to gain the interest to build the instruments music program throughout our schools,” said León during the end of year concert in June.
Schools decided to schedule students for consistent music learning beyond general courses and the opportunity to specialize in an instrument of choice as a result.
However, it's not enough to offer art or theatre classes. Quality and sequence matters.
State core curricular standards mandate that students in grades kindergarten through 12 should be building upon their skills each year in all arts disciplines said Laureen Meehan, director of Newark Arts Education Roundtable.
“Most school districts, not just in Newark, are not in compliance,” said Meehan.
NAER promotes access to arts education outside of schools and within them by supporting schools to meet the state arts education requirements. They award grants to fund arts programs in Newark schools to support infrastructure, programming, professional development, staffing, and planning.
One project NAER funds is an initiative at Roberto Clemente School designed to support their younger students who are learning English.
Arts teachers co-created the curriculum with English as Second Language teachers for an afterschool program. The program achieved strong results and received another grant to expand for this school year, said Meehan.
Newark Arts Education Roundtable also funded Arts High School to create more pipelines for students to audition and attend. Arts High partnered with the elementary schools that have music education to offer field trips, mentoring, even private lessons for students. The number of students who audition and were admitted to the school increased.
The organization aims to work with schools to build sustainable pipelines so students have access to programs at local colleges and are well prepared to take advantage of opportunities in the Arts if they chose.
“Each school has its own thought and plan,” said Meehan. “We ask them to consider sustainability and how projects build into a larger vision for how arts education lives in their school.”