Different Times call for Different Learning Approaches

STANISLAUS ALLIANCE FOR THE ARTS:
Different Times call for Different Learning Approaches

Keith D. Boggs
Deputy Executive Officer
County of Stanislaus and a member of the Stanislaus County Alliance for Arts Education Leadership Group

“Think different.”

That simple declaration was the guiding philosophy of Steve Jobs as he built one of the most
successful companies in America. Could this also be a fitting motto for our schools?

It is sometimes difficult for schools to “think different” especially in this time of hyper-sensitive
testing and ever challenging budget reductions. Yet perhaps, these reasons, this climate, offer
us the perfect time… to try.

For the new Stanislaus Alliance for Arts Education, a local grassroots arts education advocacy
network affiliated with the California Alliance for Arts Education (CAAE), it is the inclusion and
structure of the arts in schools that is of particular interest. As part of a statewide network,
your local Alliance represents a cross section of community interests, including business, local
government, parent, education, arts and cultural organizations.

The arts matter.

An investment in arts education is an investment in the well being of the larger community and
an investment in the future success of all students. The arts fill an important role in helping to
develop the skills and understanding our children need in order to be successful in a twenty-
first century global society, where creativity and imagination are, now, of the highest value.

The Alliance, therefore, is looking for those programs and approaches that might serve as
models for others in our community interested in ways to provide access to quality arts
education.

This topic, this approach, is so consistent with several economic development outreach efforts
currently afoot in our community. The Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce
Alliance effort “Expect More Stanislaus” attempting to bridge and align the business sector with
K-12 educational preparation comes directly to mind. These efforts individually and collectively
are ultimately community development efforts.
Yes?

ON THINKING DIFFERENTLY

Very few would question the idea of having a magnet school focus on math and science, but
what about the arts? Why NOT consider a parallel magnet for dance, theatre, music and the
visual arts? Do these two perspectives REALLY have anything in common?
Absolutely.

Both the sciences and the arts are centered on the essential question: “what if.” Both, when
well taught, provide students with authentic, hands-on experiences that allow them to explore
and discover meaning. Both areas, in a school setting, need specialized spaces, equipment
and time. Both are uniquely engaging and contribute to life-long learning.

AN EXAMPLE RESONATES: The Walnut Elementary Education Center

The Walnut Elementary Education Center in Turlock is structured around two schools in the
same place: the Discovery Science/Math Magnet and the Renaissance Magnet for the Visual
and Performing Arts. Each magnet has 436 K-6 students. That idea in itself is very different
indeed. And, the school has the highest API scores (886) in the district, gaining a significant 23
points in the last academic tracking cycle.

Mark Holmes, principal of the school, points out the importance of direct and authentic
experience over time with the arts. “You want the kids to hear the clear clink of a fired piece,”
he began. “You want them to understand the transition from mud to beautiful object. The
finished piece is a gift to each kid who worked so hard on it. It is a surprise every time.”

In the dance classes, every student has on his or her pair of soft dance shoes (and tap shoes
in multiple sizes can be seen daily on storage shelves at the back of the stage). Holmes
explains, “When the kids take dance here, they have a dance experience – a real dance
experience. And that starts with the shoes.” About all of the visual and performing arts
classes, he says, “These are the experiences they are going to remember throughout their
lives.”

How the Walnut Elementary model has developed and unfolded is just one of many stories
that the Stanislaus Alliance for the Arts will soon share with the community in much greater
detail through various media and community outreach efforts.

The Stanislaus Alliance for Arts Education believes there are important ideas and lessons to
be learned in the Walnut Elementary model and others, for organizing and strengthening arts
education in Stanislaus County. Telling this important story is an essential part of the mission
of the Alliance.

It is time, Stanislaus County, to learn different, and… to think different.