Art Programs Help School Kids Think and Learn Better for Life

How do you feel about art being cut from school programs? Does participating in art-making help kids think better - now and in the future?

How important is an art program to the success of children in the K-12 level school environment? Art programs have been shoved to the side for as long as I can remember.

I was grammar school in the late '60s and remember it being a time when art in elementary school was fully embraced, to the point where my mother was quite annoyed with the school because my sister was doing too much quilting instead of focusing on the three “R”s. We also had a teacher come in to do bio-feedback with us, but that is another story.

My sister is two years behind me in school, so I was in junior high (what we now call middle school), when the epiphany that art should be an integral part of the curriculum occurred. There were art classes in junior high and high school in Castro Valley Unified School District, but nothing that compares to the programs I now see being cut back on at the elementary, middle and high school grade levels here in Half Moon Bay.

Last year’s show at Coastal Arts League of the Half Moon Bay High School art students was so good I bought several pieces from students. This year, my daughter took sculpture and has one of those pieces in the show.

Taking sculpture was a welcome break to the linearity and intense home work in her advanced placement  classes. I could see how she used this creative outlet of art class not only to relax a little, but also help work through challenges in her biology, Spanish, and other classes.

  • Can I quantify the impact taking sculpture had on her other classes? Unfortunately, no.
  • Do I know my own child well enough to see the subtle, yet powerful ways her brain was working differently on math and science problems once she started putting art into her schedule? Yes!
  • Do I wish she had more time in her schedule for art so that there could be a better balance between the right and left-brained demands on her maturing brain and body? You betcha!

The debate about the importance of art in the school setting has been going on for decades. It is not likely to go away, even if funding for these programs dries up.  Here on the Coastside, elementary schools ensure high-quality art programs that are closely linked to the California curriculum requirements are available to children by participating in Art in Action.

Led by Executive Director Judy Sleeth, Art in Action’s staff is carefully studying the impacts of art programs on school children and following the debate as national policy continues to shape how and when art programs are offered to our school-aged children.

Julie Hosfeldt, former Art in Action School Coordinator for Hatch Elementary, says

“art is not only important to express students' own creativity, it also helps them discover the greater meaning of art.  After studying an artist's ideas and techniques, then trying to apply it to their own piece of artwork, I've seen students no longer intimidated or feeling that art is meaningless or just a pretty picture. 

I've then seen students get very excited about their trip to an art gallery, after having studied the artists and their works. I feel this connection to art and artists opens up a whole new world to our students and ensures a future for the arts.”

What do you think about art programs in school? Are we veering too far off the importance of the three R’s?

The Coastside schools' Art Walk will be on Main Street in Half Moon Bay over the Memorial Day weekend. Check out the masterpieces these kids are creating.


For more information on the debate about art and the humanities at the national policy level:

The President's Committee on Arts & Humanities (PCAH) recently published a policy report on the importance and impact of arts education, including a set of recommendations. It is a strong advocacy for the arts in education and supports the focus on arts integration in collaboration with educators.


The President’s Committee emerged from the process inspired both by robust data that clearly shows the effect of arts education on student academic achievement and creativity, and by firsthand observations in neighborhood schools across the country. These schools are improving test scores and fostering their students’ competitiveness in the workforce by investing in arts education strategies, even in the toughest neighborhoods.

The results also reaffirmed PCAH’s conviction that an arts education provides a critical benefit to the private sector. In order to effectively compete in the global economy, business leaders are increasingly looking for employees who are creative, collaborative and innovative thinkers. A greater investment in the arts is an effective way to equip today’s students with the skills they will need to succeed in the jobs of tomorrow.

The value of arts education is often phrased in enrichment terms--helping kids find their voice, rounding out their education and tapping into their undiscovered talents. This is true, but as President’s Committee saw in schools all over the country, it is also an effective tool in school-wide reform and fixing some of our biggest educational challenges. It is not a flower, but a wrench.


Arts education is a solution to many of these problems that has been hiding in plain sight. This is largely because it remains siloed, from the macro to the micro level. At the policy level, arts education advocacy is seen as something different and separate from the larger conversation of educational reform. And in schools, arts specialists classes are too often marginalized as something that gives the classroom teachers a planning period, while teaching artists are asked to parachute in and out in two or three week residencies, without ever being able to build relationships and integrate into the school community. But in fact, the potential of arts education lies in exactly the opposite—a seamless marriage of arts education strategies with overall educational goals, a vibrant collaboration between arts specialists, classroom teachers and teaching artists to create collaborative, creative environments that allow each child to reach his or her potential, using all the tools at our disposal to reach and engage them in learning.

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Ellen Joseph May 16, 2011 at 06:59 PM
Great article, Laura! Thank you for drawing attention to the deeper importance of art in the classroom. I enjoyed your description of the impact the sculpture class had on your daughter's thought processes in math and science, even though it was not quantifiable. Let us hope the PCAH can turn the tide on art education so that kids can receive a more balanced education, leading to a more balanced life. Looking forward to seeing the Coastside kids' artwork at the Art Walk on Memorial Day weekend! Ellen Joseph
Kitty May 16, 2011 at 07:39 PM
Be sure to go to the Coastal Arts League Gallery to see the beautiful work by a very talented group of students -- taught by some really great teachers. We're lucky to have such an amazing program at Half Moon Bay High School.
Laura McHugh May 17, 2011 at 01:08 AM
Thanks Ellen. I know as an artist yourself, you understand the importance art plays in life. I agree that a more balanced education, including art literacy, is important. We'll be hanging the show on Main Street on Friday May 27th.
Laura McHugh May 17, 2011 at 01:08 AM
Kitty - I need to get over there and see my daughter's work!
Edward Tatro May 07, 2013 at 05:33 PM


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