Kingston High School art teacher James Andrews was recently recognized as Washington’s Art Educator of the Year by the Washington Art Educators Association (WAEA) for his dedication not only to shaping Kitsap’s young artists but also for his tireless advocacy for arts education.
According to the WAEA, a prime candidate for the award “should have an extensive history of highly accomplished teaching. They should educate by writing curriculum, standards, and/or assessments, mentoring new teachers, publishing articles, and providing enriching and engaging content for their students. They should advocate by receiving grants, creating artwork outside of the classroom and supporting students in contests and exhibitions.”
While Andrews said he appreciated the recognition from the WAEA, he would still like to see the North Kitsap School District doing more to foster arts education.
“Equal to my job teaching, you have to be an advocate as well,” Andrews explained. “It’s a kind of career-long, lifelong thing. I have sent the data and studies to every single iteration of the school board that has occurred over the last twenty years.”
Throughout his 21 years in the district, Andrews noted a marked decline in the administration’s support of arts education.
“When I came here there were art teachers in — I believe — four of seven elementary schools, at least half-time, they’ve all gone away,” Andrews said. “It’s always the first thing that gets cut. Several years back, we had major cuts when we were going through a big budget crisis. The cuts that were made wound up affecting the arts disproportionately, [relative] to the other core subjects.”
The high school art teacher points to studies which illustrate the fact that districts with comprehensive arts education, often demonstrate significantly higher overall student outcomes.
In one such study (“Arts Education and the High School Dropout Problem,” Thomas. M. K., Singh, P. & Klopfenstein, K., 2015), which followed approximately 175,000 first-time 9th graders for five years, researchers identified several key findings associated with arts education:
- Cumulative credits in the arts were consistently associated with reduced dropout, even after controlling for prior student achievement and contemporaneous course completion in core subjects.
- Students who have not earned a full credit in the arts faced an increased risk of dropping out of high school every year during the study.
- Students at lowest risk of high school dropout were those that chose to study the arts more intensely and moved beyond the one-credit graduation requirement.
“The fact that this stuff is out there, plain as day, and we’re still having to fight to get kids the education they deserve — and have been promised — is definitely a big part of the frustration,” Andrews said of the numerous studies he has brought to NKSD’s board of directors and superintendents over the years.
But what about the “talent” problem? What about the students who just aren’t artistic? When asked this question, Andrews winces slightly.
“We have to divorce ourselves from this idea of: ‘the other core subjects are things to be learned and the arts are talents you’re either born with, or not,’” he said. “These are a set of skills, just like algebra, and I can teach anybody to communicate visually to an acceptable level. It’s like learning a language, why is learning art any different than learning Spanish?”
In the year ahead, Andrews said he will be working to bring forth an arts education initiative to the Legislature in Olympia.
—Nick Twietmeyer is the editor of the North Kitsap Herald, Central Kitsap Reporter and Kingston Community News. Nick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org