• From Dancing to Dad Jokes, an Arts-Based Education Supports Lifelong Academic Success


    By Dr. Chadwick Antonio

    Are you the basketball guy?

    Perhaps you’re the “brainy” math girl.

    But if you were to ask Troy Bolton or Gabriella Montez from the classic pop movie “High School Musical,” they would say they are more than those singularly defined attributes. Aren’t we all, really, more than one thing, one talent, or one passion?

    Troy and Gabriella discovered their passion for singing, dancing and the arts in addition (no pun intended) to math and basketball.

    Me? Amongst other things, I’m a science guy, a basketball guy, and I love to sing and tell “dad” jokes. I don’t sing or tell jokes particularly well, but I sing and tell dad jokes all the time – just ask my boys.

    What about you? What about your child or student? Do you or your child have a passion for the arts? Do they sing, perform, draw, or create and express themselves in imaginative ways? Do they simply love to move around constantly or tell amazing stories? Do you catch yourself thinking they have such a talent for a certain art…but still, you hesitate to act on it (pun intended) or are simply not sure how?

    If so, I strongly encourage you to support those sometimes elusive but amazing qualities and talents your son or daughter may exhibit in the most exceptional of ways. An arts-based education provides an outlet for so many children and adults to build on natural talents, interests and gifts. Furthermore, an arts-based education can positively and prominently build on students’ skills in a variety of other areas.

    Young people who participate regularly in the arts are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, according to a study from Americans for the Arts. (Regular participation is defined as at least three hours a day on three days each week for a full year.) Another study by George Mason University found that an arts-based education can increase students’ academic success.

    A recent study by Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research found “a substantial increase in arts educational experiences has remarkable impacts on students’ academic, social, and emotional outcomes.” The students in the study demonstrated fewer disciplinary referrals, a significant increase in writing performance and an increase in empathy and desire to help others. When the study was filtered to just elementary schools, which comprised 86 percent of the sample and were the primary target of the program, the researchers found that “increases in arts learning positively and significantly affect students’ school engagement, college aspirations, and their inclinations to draw upon works of art as a means for empathizing with others.”

    Today’s schools and educational institutions often define “success” by limited measures, including an emphasis only on academic courses. Science, math, and reading are wonderful subjects and powerful disciplines, but we should not discount the clear, data-supported benefits of other subjects including the arts.

    In fact, the growing field of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) has shown that the combination of sciences and arts has dramatically shaped our current society, from architecture to medicine, video games, and entertainment (how’s that Marvel comics franchise doing?). Other studies have shown an arts-based education to have benefits in areas including physical development, social interaction, cognitive development, expressive qualities, imagination, creativity and problem-solving skills, including for very young children.

    In addition to all the research that demonstrates that an arts-based education benefits overall academic growth, we can probably agree that the arts also are fun to participate in. Fun and learning can and should occupy the same space. Look back at some of your best memories of school. Were you having fun? When you worked on a science project, sang at a concert, or performed in a play, what did you learn from the experience?

    Being positive, building self-esteem, developing leadership skills, and encouraging others are valuable traits that can be strengthened through an arts-based education. Working as a team to accomplish goals is one of the most sought-after skills in the workplace or in relationships today. Students should feel supported and encouraged to express all their talents and skills, and an arts-based education can help do that.

    Remember, it is fantastic to be the “basketball guy” or the “brainy math girl,” and whoever you or your child are, it is always more than enough. However, we are all complex and amazing beings capable of creating and imagining so much more. Take a moment to ponder all the wonderful possibilities each child presents and how an arts-based education can help them grow and develop in so many ways.

    Whatever your reason for exploring an arts-based education please know you have a community of educators and learners around to support you and your child.

    Because after all, as Troy and Gabriella would say (or sing), we are “all in this together.”


    Dr. Chadwick Antonio is Chief Executive Officer of Easton Arts Academy Elementary Charter School.