Superintendent's Notebook: Power of the arts

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I recently had the pleasure to observe the power of the arts in Regional School Unit 5.

Freeport Middle School students gave an amazing performance of “Peter Pan,” where original music was written and played by Logan Schulz, an eighth grader. As the audience was captivated by Wendy and the Lost Boys, I was reminded of how much the arts can enrich all of our lives.

In a time of division in education around proficiency, testing, and school choice, the importance of the arts in education is one where we can remain united. From early philosophers such as Plato, the arts have been recognized as an integral part of society. The arts are essential to the overall development of our students.

“The true purpose of arts education is not necessarily to create more professional dancers or artists,” Kelly Pollock, executive director of the Center of Creative Arts in St. Louis, has said. “It’s to create more complete human beings who are critical thinkers, who have curious minds, who can lead productive lives.”

The performance at the piano by Logan provided abundant evidence of the traits noted by Pollock. The discipline needed to reach the level of expertise that Logan displayed during his performance was evidence of hours of practice and hard work, the habits of work that we strive to instill in all students. His creativity and curiosity for music was easily recognized. Fine arts contribute to the human development and understanding of our students in ways that other disciplines cannot do as readily.

The arts are what make us most human, most complete and most importantly, most connected to one another. Who does not have an emotional response while listening to Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper sing “Shallow,” or watching the compelling performance of Mahershala Ali as Dr. Don Shirley in “Green Book?” Long after artists leave this world, their performances remain for us to fondly remember and to continue to enjoy for generations.

At a recent assembly at Morse Street School, kindergarten students sang robustly while their self-portraits were displayed, giving us a peek at how our youngest artists see themselves. These memorable performances have an impact on parents, grandparents and the students themselves for many years, well after the daily lessons in the basics are forgotten.

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly,” Peter Pan says, “you cease forever to be able to do it.”

We can thank Peter, artists and musicians for inspiring us to reach higher and keep believing. As you wait for the mud of April to disappear and the greener grasses of May to appear, take some time to enjoy a local play, museum, or concert. The arts can transcend you to another place while we await the joys of summer in Maine to arrive.

Becky Foley is superintendent of schools in Regional School Unit 5 (Freeport-Durham-Pownal). She can be reached at foleyb@rsu5.org.

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