Allegheny County Art Teachers Work to Blend Culture into Curriculum
Santoni, Matthew, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
School art programs around Allegheny County seem to be going strong as teachers emphasize critical thinking and interdisciplinary studies, but some officials fear Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed budget portends dire cuts in school funding and endangers arts programs.
With some districts' art teachers handling 700 students per semester and shuttling among schools, they nonetheless have carved out a niche for arts education by connecting it to other subjects, and emphasizing creativity and critical thinking over technical skills.
"What I tell my kids all the time is, 'I may not teach you to draw, but I will teach you to think,' " said Jayne Sweet, a middle school and high school art teacher in the South Allegheny School District. "If you have the critical-thinking and reasoning skills you develop in art, you can use those to answer a PSSA (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment) question."
Thus, lessons in impressionistic painting can involve elements of French history; drawing and perspective can include math and geometry; making and painting Native American drums can teach history, social studies and music all at once.
The budget cuts unveiled by Corbett on Tuesday included a reduction in basic-education funding by $550 million, which Pennsylvania State Education Association fine arts caucus Chair Debbie Turici feared could trickle down to school districts and leave arts programs most vulnerable.
"Arts aren't mandated at the elementary school level, so people may look at us as a fluff program," said Turici, who teaches art at West Allegheny School District's Donaldson and Wilson elementary schools. "If you want to raise your test scores, have a strong, strong art program. ... I believe if you cut your art, your test scores might not plummet, but your scores could definitely be better."
"We know that resources for education next year are going to be less ... what we've been doing is trying to help school districts envision how they're going to do that; how they're going to provide art education with that in mind," said Jamie Kasper, associate director of the Arts Education Collaborative, a Downtown-based group providing advocacy, leadership training and professional- development programs for art teachers.
In addition to making art more relevant to other subjects and harder to cut out, an interdisciplinary approach helps keep students involved and engaged, said Kate Ciarimboli, the art teacher at East Allegheny School District's Logan Middle School, who sees about 670 students in fourth through eighth grades every six days. …