Austin's public schools are about to get a shock of artistic adrenaline thanks to the efforts of Dr. Brent Hasty and his creative arts think tank, MindPOP.
On Wednesday evening, Hasty joined Austin Independent School District Superintendent of Schools Dr. Meria Carstarphen, Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Darrell Ayers, Vice President of The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, to announce the launch of a new program that will revolutionize the AISD over the next decade.
AISD will begin infusing arts education into the general classroom curriculum of every subject in K-8 schools. More arts electives will be offered to students.
Called Any Given Child, the program promises to increase test scores, attendance and graduation rates, and prepare Austin students more for the future ahead of them, whether that be college, work or travel.
To accomplish these lofty goals, AISD will begin infusing arts education into the general classroom curriculum of every subject in the district's K-8 schools. That means that science and math and technology teachers will learn new approaches to teach their subject matter and more arts electives will be offered to students.
None of the presenters at Wednesday's launch event expressed any hesitation about taking these bold strides or about the claims about the plan's effectiveness or strategy.
That is because over the past three years, MindPOP's research has revealed incontrovertible evidence as to the benefits that come with beefing up the presence of the arts in schools. "We have always known that the arts benefited our students," said Hasty, "but we did not know to what degree until now."
Specifically, Dr. Carstarphen pointed out that AISD students "highly engaged in the arts" graduate at a 20 percent higher rate than comparable students (from 78 percent to 98 percent). Additionally, the more engaged students increased their attendance by more than five percent in the arts-heavy high schools and almost three percent in the middle schools.
The overwhelming majority of teachers and principals at the research schools expressed a strong desire to include more arts in their classrooms. A whopping 92 percent of the teachers also said they would be interested in professional development in one or more art forms.
If you recall your own formative years in school, it's not hard to pick out those lessons that really stuck with you because of the creative ways that teachers presented them. Preparing teachers to make all of their lessons — from algebra to English literature — this engaging is mind-blowing.
One shared sentiment from all of the evening's speakers was the combined amazement and pride that a city in Texas (of all places!) would be capable of uniting the city, the school system, national and local arts organizations, higher education, and the community together in such a powerful and engaged consensus.
Now that Any Given Child has been launched, criteria and implementation processes are underway, led by MindPOP and advised by The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. MindPOP has already been busy in a dozen pilot schools; now the reach will steadily grow to encompass the entire city.
"This is about planning and distributing the resources so that each and every child has access, so there are not pockets where only some children have access to fine arts learning," Hasty said. "If we align our resources so that we use our money and time and space more effectively, we can really impact student learning in a powerful way."
As Mayor Leffingwell pointed out in his address, it will take the entire city to activate this enormous effort. But with so many progressive organizations working toward a common goal, our city will be energized in a whole new manner that will begin to yield almost immediate results.
"We are recommending ten years, but we look forward to working with you in the community to determine if that time frame is too slow," Hasty added with a smile. "Any way you look at it, however, it's exciting."