The barefoot third-graders in matching red T-shirts and jeans, sway, slither and sink to represent cattails, snakes and mud.

The crowd of several hundred parents snap photos and shoot video. But the adults are there for more than a student show at Highland Park Elementary School in Salt Lake City.

Tuesday night, it was a call to arms.

Philanthropist and fine arts supporter Beverley Sorenson rallied the crowd, encouraging them to write, call or e-mail their legislators and decry a budget cut that will ax full time art specialists in 52 elementary schools statewide.

"We must never, ever let them take the arts out of the elementary schools," Sorenson said. "When they're little, you can reach them. That is a precious time."

A law in the 2008 Legislative session implemented $15.8 million be spent over four years on the art specialists. Thirty-five percent of the funding was sliced during the 2009 Legislative session due to the statewide budget shortfall.

"Each of you has a voice. The Legislature needs to hear from you," said Lisa Cluff, director of "Friends of Art Works for Kids," a grassroots group dedicated to maintaining Legislative funds supporting fine arts education.

Parents at Tuesday night's event sang the praises of the fine arts program in their schools.

Brenda Sherwood, who has a third-grader at Highland Park, said she is a single mom and would never be able to afford all the dance, art and music classes outside of school. "He wouldn't get this anywhere else," she said.

Annie Frazier, who has children attending schools in Salt Lake School District, said she doesn't want her kids to turn into "little robots."

"We want them to learn, play, create, dance and sing, rather than just learn math all day," Frazier said. "We need a little bit of art to remind us why we're all human."

Highland Park third-graders showed the group how they learned math through dance and song in the previous grade. Jamming to "Rock Around the Clock," the kids created clock times with their arms. Their teacher told the audience the students also learned about obtuse, acute and right angles in the exercise.

While Highland Park had a head start in the arts, thanks to years of grants from the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program, other schools will be hurting if their art specialist doesn't return for fall 2010. The paid specialists incorporate the arts into the core curriculum in 21 school districts statewide, serving approximately 30,000 students.

Salt Lake district Superintendent McKell Withers told the crowd, "As testing pressures rise, around the country schools are making the terrible mistake of narrowing the curriculum and teaching less and less of the arts. Their scores continue to go down."

By integrating dance, music and art into the core curriculum, students are learning in a new and different way, said Stephanie Pugsley, who has two children at Highland Park and spearheads the annual spring art sale fundraiser.

"Using different parts of their brain enhances their learning. They hear, touch, smell and experience it," Pugsley said. For example, when learning about bugs in science, the kids listen to music about bugs, create a bug through different art mediums or dance and be a bug. "It's a whole different experience than looking at a picture of a bug."

Go to www.artworksforkids.org for more information.

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