The long term effects of art programs in high school

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Kara Wilson and Dan Bowerly
Kara Wilson and Dan Bowerly

by Mykaela A.Jones

There has been a large debate about the true importance for art programs in public school and if they should receive more or less funding than other activities sports and extracurricular education programs. As a person who was a more art minded student, I always thought that the arts were the most amazing programs that public schools could offer.

From the time I was very young I knew that I wanted to have a career where I was able to be expressive and create things that I knew people would really love. I guess that is the empathetic part of my nature that has sought to make those around me smile or feel good about themselves, which I found to be most effective when I was performing on stage or reading excerpts from my many unfinished musical pieces. I have so much experience with the performing arts and have decided to pursue them along with journalism and creative writing for a career choice. My college studies will be jam packed with so many different classes that revolve around the arts, and I am lucky that I am able to pursue my passion, but I am also aware that there are people in country who are not so lucky to have the experience that I do going into the entertainment/media industry.

You may be reading this right now and thinking ‘what does all this have to do with the education of those who attend public school?’ If you ask me, I would say that the arts programs in public school are very essential to the schooling of the children of the world. This article, however, is not about what I think or know as I am not authorized to be preaching about this subject, nor am I a complete and utter expert on the subject of importance. Instead I decided that I would sit down with some of the art directors and teachers of West Grand’s art programs and get their personal insight on the matter of arts in public school education. I spoke with Kara Wilson, who teaches art at West Grand High School, and Dan Bowerly, the music and theater director of the middle school and high school, to see what they had to say about the subject.

Dan Bowerly, the music and drama director of West Grand High School, sat down recently to discuss the importance of music and drama in public schools. On Tuesday the 28th of November, I was able to get an hours worth of conversation about the importance of the musical and dramatic arts with him. For those who are not aware, Mr. Bowerly is also a saxophone player on top of being a music and drama instructor. In this interview he mentioned that music and drama are essential parts of education as they add a balance to students who participate. This balance helps the creative side of the brain and the cognitive and informational side of the brain work together in perfect unison which, in the long run at least, help their brains work in new and exciting ways. Musical education is important because music itself is a very healing thing to have in the life of anyone, and Mr. Bowerly says that he finds it to be important that his students feel good about themselves, and the real world applications of music and drama education are also very essential.

The skills of public speaking, memorization, and self improvement can also be taken away from being involved with a theater/music program. He made a really excellent point when it came to the topic of how students are taught music, “You wouldn’t want your surgeon to give you 60% when you go under the knife, and you wouldn’t want to pick a realtor who gives 60%. Music is something that you really should give your all in when you are performing as even a small mistake can throw everything off. Music teaches students discipline and integrity, it really inspires them to complete a task and work on their skills, even if they don’t pursue music or theater after they leave high school/college.”

I took the liberty of asking Mr. Bowerly about his personal career as a musician. He said that the saxophone was an instrument that he really was able to be his most authentic musical self, and was able to find work with a lot of different and diverse musical groups in his musical career. He said since the saxophone is used in almost every type of musical genre, it was easier for him to be able to work with so many different people. The instrument, he says, appealed to him the most when his father inspired him to take it up. He also credits his college music director, Frances Risdon, with helping him out in his early days of playing the instrument. Risdon was a flute instructor to begin with, but Bowerly says that she “reluctantly agreed to help him” with taking up the saxophone while he was in school for his music degree. Mr. Bowerly says that she was his inspiration as both a musician and as a musical/ dramatic instructor. On that note, he mentioned how much he enjoys seeing his students improve, and how it always makes a difference when kids are willing and able to give the arts a try.

He recently took two of his students, Jonathan Belcher and Jimmy Uren, to participate in honor band. He says that since the band here at West Grand is so small, it is very beneficial for students to have the experience of working in and hearing how a band should sound. It also gives them a chance to work with other students and directors (going back to the team building skills that he says the arts teaches) all the while putting on a very enjoyable, well rehearsed, and beautiful sounding concert. The Honor Band is similar to another musical project that he takes his students on every year, The Project, the only difference being that everyone in the musical programs from all participate in creating a concert. The Project is one of Mr.Bowerly’s many interesting and soon upcoming projects. Other events that parents and the community can look forward to include the school play, which is still in the process of being chosen, a musical fundraiser similar to the sock hop concerts, and in the far future he hopes to get his students involved with projects that require more composition and improvisation. Mr. Bowerly said he hopes to expand students learning by allowing them to take more creative risks. For the sake of giving the drama department some attention, I asked Mr. Bowerly a question or two about his plans for the future for it.

He says he would like to see people having a more positive outlook on the shows and does hope to do more shows that the community as a whole can come to and appreciate. He encourages his students to pick the shows every year, and he has noticed that when the theater here at West Grand is more family friendly, something like “Alice in Zombieland,” “Charlotte’s Web,” and others along those lines, seem to garner a more positive reaction from those who come to see them. Young kids in particular will take a great interest to those shows and could potentially inspire them to go out for theater and music programs. Down the road, he mentioned that if more students got involved with the choir and theater he would consider doing a musical stage show, which hasn’t been done since 2013 in the production of “Blackmailed to Murder” where all those who sponsored the drama program got their own little jingles written. While he would love to do more theatric projects like musicals, there is a lack of people involved with vocal classes.

When asked about how more students could get involved with the performing arts Mr. Bowerly had a few things to say. He first would encourage students to step outside of their comfort zones. High school is a rough place and you never know what someone is going through in their life outside of the campus. Music and other performing arts are activities that can take the pain and angst of life and turn it into something beautiful that someone can look to when times get hard. Arts are not for everyone, especially in a community that is so heavily sport involved, but that doesn’t mean that students shouldn’t give it a try. Even if art is not the way you express yourself, you still need to express yourself. Music and theater are not the easiest things in the world. Sometimes people are afraid of getting up on stage with all the attention on them, or they think they don’t have what it takes, but Mr. Bowerly taught me personally a very long time ago that you’ll never know until you try. That was all that was said about the performing arts at West Grand some of you may be wondering about the other forms of art that are available.

Luckily Kara Wilson generously agreed to speak with me about her views on art culture in Kremmling. Ms. Wilson recently took her students to The Denver Zoo, so that those in her various art classes could do various and fun activities. Her Lifelong Art class was in charge of taking photos, while her other classes were to either draw or sculpt whichever animals that they came upon that peaked their artistic interest. After all the students had done what they needed to do for their given assignments they were then free to wander the zoo as they pleased and in doing something beneficial to their art education, they were having fun and getting to see things that are not seen in Kremmling or even things that were native to Colorado or North America for that matter. In sitting down with Ms. Wilson she had plenty to say about the importance of art programs in public schools. She believes that creative art such as painting, drawing, and photography are essential to the education of young people as it allows them a new and often exciting way to learn something new, all while giving them a small break from their regular curriculum. She says as a teacher it is very new and exciting to see students improve in their art skills, in her words “It’s like watching a sunrise, the more it [their skills] improve is like when a new day keeps growing only to become more aesthetic.” In other words she feels immense joy when she sees kids enjoying what they are doing, as well as showing interest in improving on those skills. In addition to the improvement of her students skills she also encourages her students to get out and see the world in order to expand their minds when they go to create new art. The recent trip to the Denver Zoo is a prime example.

When asked about funding for the arts program and the expansion of art culture in the community Ms. Wilson had a few things to input on the topic. She says she believes the community has a very positive outlook on the arts in the school and she very much appreciates their support for their kids and for the school’s expansion of the art programs. She mentioned how it irritates her that many schools cannot afford to give more money to their arts programs as having them as part of curriculum is beneficial to the creative process of all students. She does, however, hope to see a lot more young people getting involved with the arts in this community. She even mentioned how she loves the art gallery in town and how that has been attracting people to art and all related to it. She does think that art has a positive impact on the lives of students, while it does depend on the individual, she does believe that the arts generally does make students a lot more expressive and therefore more positive as their skills continue to grow. Wilson says that working with her students is one of her many inspirations as both an education director, as well as an artist.

On the same topic of inspiration, she says that growing up both of her parents were artists and because she was surrounded by new and exciting things all the time, it lead her down a path of wanting to bring that same inspiration to the people she would cross paths with in her lifetime, pursuing the educational portion of the arts just seemed right to her, she said.

In her life she says that she has always worked well with children and working in public education for art was a great given. Art not only affects Kara in her professional life, but her personal life as she is always creating new and exciting art to keep in her classroom and her home. She says that art “encompasses my life, and connects all aspects about it in so many complex and exciting ways.” She was all smiles when discussing the up and coming projects for her art programs. She is excited to announce that her lifelong art kids are working on an in class lounge area as the year continues, next semester that class will switch over to ceramics and her students will be working with clay to create new projects. She is always excited to see what her students create and ceramics is always fun to participate in and create with. Another thing Wilson is excited for is for her 3D art students to do mirror etching, as those projects are interesting to watch and always receive positive feedback.

In the wrap up of our interview, I jokingly asked Ms. Wilson what the secret to life was. To my surprise she had a very insightful and beautiful answer. She said that the secret to life is to have a very open mind, something that participating in art can help to expand. She says that students and people in general should open to new experiences while also using one’s time wisely. She says that people should not be afraid of change, but instead should embrace it with open arms and even more open minds. She says that when our minds are open and we are glad to accept change we can move forward and build a better tomorrow and enlighten the minds of those who are going to change the world. The insight of the arts through the eyes of those who teach them for a living was great to get a feel for. In addition to the insight of these two educators, many students have mentioned how important the arts are to them. More updates on the arts programs of West Grand are to come very soon. Until then, Ms. Wilson and Mr. Bowerly are both very appreciative of the support from the community and the parents of their many talented and driven students.