Archive for March, 2012
I was moved to tears while sitting in my car listening to angelic voices singing The Prayer of the Children by several MHSA (Milwaukee High School of the Arts) students as their singing opened a recent MPS board meeting. However, this was not just another school board meeting. It took place as a response to the most recent deaths due to violence of four MPS students in the short window of time of seven weeks.
When words are not enough, it is through the arts that messages are driven by feelings. There was nothing that spoke so clearly and honestly as the MHSA students’ singing voices.
Can you feel the hearts of the children?
Aching for home, for something of their very own
Reaching hands, with nothing to hold on to,
But hope for a better day a better day
Let’s propose that every meeting at Central Office begin with something positive, and more specifically, related to the arts. And have the meetings begin with STUDENTS.
Our schools are not safe. The statistics shared that evening confirm that 48% (!) of students do not feel safe in their buildings. (The Youth Risk Behavior Survey)
As an MPS teacher, I was the witness of an act of violence in a school hallway. It was disturbing and rattled my core. I reached out for help time after time, and none was given. The harassment continued. As a result, my health suffered and chronic illnesses interrupted my ability to teach. (Having worked in lock-down in a juvenile facility, my experience in this school regarding feeling safe was worse.)
Let it be an urgency to bring stability, safety, and change into our schools. Our children cannot learn in toxic environments.
We test and we test and we test the students, but when do we address the whole child? When are they given the opportunity to share their life stories to build apathy, understanding, and an appreciation for all cultures? The arts allow for this.
Just as there were no words that could be as strong as the young gentlemen’s song, sometimes young people need the arts to express themselves, because that is the only way they can. And it is through the arts that academics can be learned by way of arts integration. And it is through the arts that brings students together and builds student-teacher relationships. These necessary connections keep kids in school and make them feel they are a part of something, rather than seeking out those needs by gangs, teen pregnancy, etc.
Do you know how many stories I could share of the arts changing a student’s attitude, or increasing academic performance, or allowing a child to feel good about themselves when the arts are a part of a classroom… a school? Yet, districts are ignoring this. Why?
There is money for testing booklets and plenty of big checks written out to the standardized testing companies; why is that such a priority? I am not saying no assessment. If an argument against numerous standardized tests is that nothing can be done because requirements come from the state, then we need to speak up as educators, as parents, as citizens that we need change.
When we include the arts in a classroom, a strong sense of community is built. When there is a strong sense of community, less behavior problems exist. When there are less behavior problems, then more learning can take place. And when learning includes the arts, the material is intriguing for the students and they walk away with a deeper understanding of the academic material. Not every student will feel a strong sense of accomplishment through academics. It is our mission to give them additional opportunities to feel a positive self-worth. Sometimes this takes the shape of poetry, participating in a play/musical, or visual art.
The recent waves of violence should not be taken lightly. They are the children’s voices screaming. Can you hear them? Change will not happen over night, but we can begin to shed light into a child’s life by adding the arts. Now.
Dance and love,
Christina M. Ratatori
a.r.t. founding director