For more than a decade, arts in education has been a hot topic for many of the nation’s public schools. Since the 2001 No Child Left Behind act that standardized education — pressuring schools and students to raise testing scores in core subjects such as math, reading and social studies — arts education as fallen off the priority list for many federally funded schools and districts.
To address a nationwide need on a state level, Utah State University and the Caine College of the Arts (CCA) are implementing a new outreach program called the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Access Initiative. USU’s Arts Access Initiative program specifically focuses on providing arts education to children in elementary schools throughout the state, including those with disabilities.
Raymond Veon, who served as the director of fine and performing arts in the Atlanta Public Schools, in Atlanta, Ga., is the founding director of the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Access, a program specifically funded and designed to serve the statewide need for arts access in schools.
“Professor Veon brings to Utah State University 17 years of experience in teaching the visual arts and an impressive list of accomplishments as a school and district administrator with Atlanta public schools,” said Craig Jessop, dean of the CCA.
Many Utah teachers, including Meagan Thorup, who taught orchestra and music theory classes at Herriman High School in Herriman, Utah, are encouraged by the newly funded program. Thorpe believes that arts education improves confidence, concentration and a better sense of teamwork among all students. She said it is critical to the average student; however, it is the key to success for students with disabilities.
“The arts provide a great outlet for all students because all abilities can participate,” said Thorup. “Arts are the one place in education where students with disabilities don’t have to be different, or considered ‘special ed.’”
The goal of the Arts Access Initiative is to provide arts education to elementary students in Utah. In the program, arts education is defined as instruction in dance, music, visual arts and theater, and the integration of the arts into other curriculums.
“This program is devoted to serving students with disabilities through the arts and through integrated arts instruction in public schools,” said Veon.
The initiative focuses on implementing arts education in schools by working with both teachers and undergraduate students majoring in education. Veon will work with USU’s Center for Persons with Disabilities, the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program (BTSALP) university partners, the Utah State Office of Education and others to implement new programs at the elementary school level.
“This initiative is really about the children and providing arts education to all students, including those with disabilities,” said Nick Morrison, senior associate dean of the CCA. “Utah State University is the only institution in the state to focus on arts education for students with disabilities and this is for two reasons: the resources available here and the distance education network.”
Arts education resources at USU are many, with several focusing on children with disabilities.
Another part of Veon’s work in the CCA is the role of assistant dean for arts education, helping to bring together the many programs and consolidate the efforts for arts integration in schools by working closely with USU’s Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services (CEHS) and the Sorenson Legacy Foundation, a foundation established by Beverley Taylor and James LeVoy Sorenson to support cultural, educational, scientific and community-focused projects improving people’s lives.
While there are programs in place for arts education, the Arts Access Initiative helps bring the focus statewide by utilizing USU’s 27 regional and distance campuses.
“Our distance education network gives Utah State University a broad reach and allows us to focus on elementary schools throughout the entire state,” said Morrison.
This year, the initiative will focus on helping specific public elementary schools from Kamas to Ogden by providing suggestions and financial assistance to encourage and support arts education in the classrooms, said Morrison.
Efforts in Cache Valley include the development and implementation of courses and workshops, created in collaboration with the CCA and the Special Education and Communicative Disorders and Deaf Education departments in CEHS for both practicing teachers and for students currently enrolled in teaching programs at USU.
“These courses and workshops in the arts will support in-service and pre-service teachers in best practices to integrate arts education on campus, around and the state and through USU’s distance education network,” said Veon.
With the Arts Access Initiative, Utah State University will be supporting teachers, such as Thorup, who already integrate the arts into their classroom, and encouraging others to do so as well.
“The arts, in education, are incredibly valuable because they allow you to reach students who are hard to reach in other, more traditional ways,” said Thorup.
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