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The Arts Are Making A Comeback In Detroit (And Are Helping Kids Nationwide)

Around 78% of businesses agree that art in the workplace can help reduce stress, but arts programs are often one of the first on the chopping block in schools. Not surprisingly, art classes have been absent from the majority of Detroit public schools. Until recently, only 24% of the district’s schools had an art class and 27% had a music class, with only 18% of schools offering both. But now, the district is taking steps to embrace art’s place in public schools, echoing a changing attitude that’s becoming more widely accepted nationwide.

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is leading the charge to restore the arts in Detroit public schools. When the district was mostly under the state’s control, the predictable cuts were made to art and music courses. The idea was to focus more succinctly on core classes like math and reading, but these cuts don’t always produce the results officials hope for. In addition to the obvious boost in creativity that children experience when they participate the arts and related classes, a recent report conducted by Americans for the Arts found that art education improves problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. It also helps to build confidence in students who may not be academically inclined in the traditional sense. And involvement in the arts can help develop a host of other skills that translate into other areas of education and life in general.

Over the next year, Vitti plans to make art and music programs accessible to students in every one of the district’s school. Starting in the 2018-2019 school year, all K-5 schools will have either a music or an art class for students. This will require budgetary restructuring to the tune of $3 million, but the end goal is to ensure all schools have both art and music programs. And in the spring, Detroit schools will launch their Cultural Passport program, a partnership with the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and the Michigan Opera Theatre. This program will allow students from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade to experience some of the city’s most extraordinary cultural events. Vitti’s goal is to show that every student has an affinity for the arts.

The decision to put the arts in the spotlight mirrors programs being created and embraced all across the nation. Art Feeds, a national, not-for-profit program that serves everyone from preschool children to teenagers, brings all kinds of arts programs to communities around the country. The lessons they provide in dance, drawing, sculpting, music, and other art forms are “designed for consistent expression for mental and emotional wellness,” per the organization’s website. And in addition to the fun kids experience in these programs, their curriculum has reportedly been “proven to reduce fear, stress, and anxiety; increase creative problem-solving skills; and increase self-efficiency and self-worth.”

Those effects can have big implications for all students, but particularly those who are economically vulnerable. Around 45.6% of children living below the federal poverty level are enrolled in preschool, and experts say that the arts could help these children in ways other subjects cannot.

According to Tarrell Davis, Director of Early Childhood Programs at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia:

Research suggests that high quality arts programming can decrease stress levels for children facing economic hardship. In comparison to regular homeroom classes, music, dance, and visual arts related to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This is a meaningful finding, particularly for economically disadvantaged children, who are disproportionately likely to face dangerous or chaotic neighborhoods and frequent residential moves, as well as family financial strain … We now have evidence that the arts can ‘get under the skin’ and lower children’s stress levels.”

With that in mind, it seems like Detroit public schools are making moves that other districts may need to emulate in the coming years. Although some are quick to dismiss the arts as frivolous, the data shows that these subjects are integral to emotional and mental development.

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