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Schools extoll virtues of teaching the arts

Published: Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 6:31 a.m. CDT

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BATAVIA – As a student at J.B. Nelson Elementary School in Batavia, Brian Schulze loved to draw.

Schulze, now in his sixth year as an art teacher at Louise White Elementary School in Batavia, tries to instill an appreciation for the arts in his own students.

“I don’t think you get a full well-rounded education without including the arts,” he said. “I try to let them get their feet wet. I try to expose them to as many art materials and processes as I can.”

Educators throughout central Kane County stress the need for art to be a part of a student’s life. They said it instills creativity in them along with motivating them.

St. Charles East High School art teacher Gregory Chapman said the arts have been strongly emphasized since he started at the school in 1993.

“It’s important,” Chapman said. “A lot of other countries are looking to us for creativity. I encourage my students to think creatively and outside of the box, and to be able to problem solve.”

Kerry Freedman, professor and Head of Art + Design Education at Northern Illinois University, said by supporting the arts, Kane County school officials are “demonstrating that they really do strive to provide the best education possible for their students.”

“A good arts education program supports individual development and lifelong learning as well as providing a wide range of work opportunities,” Freedman said. “And, the arts can support learning in other school subjects by, for example, motivating students to engage.”

Illinois requires public high school students to take one year of art, music, foreign language or vocational education in order to graduate. During the 2011-12 academic year, there were 3,056 art teachers in Illinois public schools, according to data on the Illinois State Board of Education’s website. There were 867 public school districts in Illinois in fiscal year 2012, according to ISBE.

St. Charles East High School sophomore Sydney Albrecht, 16, of West Chicago said she is applying what she learned in her art classes to her theater work. She made sets for the school’s recent production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

“When you are designing sets, you have to draw them out first,” she said. “The stage is a large-scale canvas for you to do whatever you want to do.”

Chapman said he has seen many instances of art helping to transform a student.

“Super shy kids become confident,” he said. “Art teaches them how to express themselves.”

Chapman would like to see the school hire another art teacher. The school now has four full-time art teachers and one part-time teacher, he said.

“We would be able to have more classes, and the teachers would be able to specialize in their areas,” Chapman said.

Patty O’Neil, Geneva School District’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said the district knows the importance of arts in education.

“So much of what students learn in the arts translates to other areas,” she said.

Kaneland School District spotlights the arts through its annual Kaneland Community Fine Arts Festival, which will be held April 21 at the Kaneland High School campus. The festival, which has been held since 1998, has grown from a two-hour show that attracted 200 people to a seven-hour show that garners 3,000 people.

The festival showcases not only professional art but also student artwork.

“It’s a natural driving force of any human being, the arts and having the ability to think in a creative manner,” said Maria Dripps-Paulson, the festival’s executive director and Kaneland High School’s former band director.

She said the festival itself provides students with an arts education.

“They can walk right up to an artist at work,” she said. “That gives them a hands-on, interactive experience.”

Fine Line Creative Arts Center, located near St. Charles, offers a chance for school art teachers at all grade levels to explore new techniques and projects through the teacher institute days it offers. The center also sees 1,200 to 1,300 adults annually enroll in art classes at the center.

“I think everybody has the capacity of being an artist,” said Lynn Caldwell, Fine Line’s executive director. “You might not be a Van Gogh, but you can enjoy what you are doing.”

Jim Kirkhoff, director of development at Water Street Studios in Batavia, said people become inspired to enroll in Water Street’s art classes after walking through Water Street Studios’ gallery and seeing artists at work.

“People can see it happening and then they say, ‘Hey, I want to try that,’ “ Kirkhoff said. “We can help their artistic passion grow.”

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