High schools everywhere are searching for all the students who didn’t return after the pandemic. And for those who have come back, keeping them engaged and on a path to graduation is paramount. Learn4Life, a network of public high schools, offers personalized instruction which includes robust art programs to get kids excited about school. For some, it opens their eyes to a possible career in the arts.
“One of my favorite things about teaching art is seeing students come in with no confidence whatsoever, and then a light comes on and they start to push themselves,” said Denine Bennett, art teacher at Learn4Life in Fresno. “And that confidence spills over into academics and it becomes the reason they come to school…it gets them in the door.”
Student Sandra S. was very shy and quiet when she first transferred to Learn4Life and didn’t regularly come in to meet with her teachers. Learn4Life offers a flexible schedule, so the staff keeps close tabs on each student to make sure they’re completing assignments and coming in regularly to meet with teachers and tutors.
“She loves the art class and we’ve seen her improve in drawing, which gives her a sense of pride from creating something beautiful,” Bennett said. “Now she comes to school more often and has created a portfolio of her drawings. Sandra recently entered her work in the Fresno Art Fair and earned a second place!”
In traditional high schools, often when students are falling behind in credits, they have to give up the fun electives and take more core classes until they catch up – which Bennett points out can have the opposite effect.
“When you take away electives like art and music, you’re de-motivating the students. Our art room is their safe space where they learn to trust us, share, discover how to express themselves. Yes, they’re getting credit, but they’re also learning about themselves.”
March is Youth Art Month, a time to promote art education in schools. A recent study by the Arts Education Partnership shows that including the arts in required coursework as an intervention strategy may reduce the dropout rate in at-risk populations.1 And other studies indicate that students who engage in arts classes perform better in math, reading and writing.2
Bennett is pleased to see the focus on STEM shifting toward STEAM to include arts. “The arts help kids expand their curiosity and imagination – skills that are essential in any career they choose,” Bennett points out. “Plus, they grow their communications and interpersonal skills.”