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Innovative art program helps improve student performance

Published: Thursday, April 7 2011 12:11 p.m. MDT

Cook the eggs in hot water.

Jack Bozarth, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Educators across the state credit an innovative arts program with helping improve student performance.

The program provides integrated arts education in more than 50 elementary schools around the state. Due to budget shortfalls, it was potentially on the chopping block this year, but in the end lawmakers approved the money needed to keep it going.

Woodrow Wilson Elementary in the Granite School District is diverse, with kids from 30 countries speaking 28 languages. One key to helping them learn is getting kids involved with art.

"The kids come. They're very attentive. They want to do a nice finished product," Woodrow Wilson Elementary Principal Lynda Hart said. "And they have something they can take home or display when we have our arts festival."

Wilson Elementary is one of more than 50 schools with an arts specialist, thanks to the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program, which serves 30,000 kids statewide. Hart says the program helps teach core subjects like science, math, social studies and English by integrating them with visual arts, theater, dance and music.

"They gain the confidence here and then that carries over into their other subjects as well," Hart said.

A recent Dan Jones survey of schools served by the program found principals believed it was having a strong, positive impact.

The survey found 85 percent of respondents reported that the effect of the program was "definitely positive" and 15 percent said it was "probably positive."

Principals also reported increases in self-esteem, confidence, social skills and civility, with decreases in negative aggression.

"They do better in all areas of the core curriculum when art is included," said Lisa Cluff, director of Friends of Art Works for Kids. "They do better in math; they do better in science, history, when arts are woven into the curriculum."

Lawmakers also took notice and renewed $4 million in funding for another year.

"These children are happy. They're a joy. They're having fun. They're working together," said Beverly Taylor Sorenson, the education innovator who spearheaded the program.

She says her greatest satisfaction is watching the development of whole, well-rounded children.

Next year will be the final year of the pilot program. Then supporters hope the program's success will help them obtain ongoing funding beyond next year.

Email: jdaley@desnews.com

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