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Community shows support for arts education

Community shows support for arts education

A packed room of Macon County residents pleaded with county commissioners during a May 13 meeting to provide the school system with more funding for arts education. 

The heartfelt stories and tears from students made it clear that arts education has had a tremendous impact on people of all ages whether they ended up pursuing the arts professionally or not. 

Chloe Tallent just graduated from Western Carolina University with a degree in music education, but she said she never would have gone to college if it wasn’t for music. Through her tears, she told the board about the difficult time she had in school during her parents’ divorce, and how music class kept her in school. 

“I hated math and science and English and history were OK, but third period was the only thing I had to look forward to,” she said. “I know there are other kids like me. I did student teaching this year at the middle school and saw the difference it made for students.”

Tawana Valentine, who has worked in mental health and as a substitute teacher, told commissioners that arts education should be a top priority just from a mental health perspective. With students going through a tremendous amount of stress, especially during the pandemic, it’s crucial for them to also find ways to release their stress in a safe way.

“Art can be a proactive venue for assisting our children who will be the citizens of this county someday,” she said. “They are seeking to find alternate ways to stimulate their mood — this can be done through arts, music, theater and painting but it can also be done through drugs and sex.”

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Sara O’Neal has been a public educator for 20 years and said she’s seen the positive impact art can have on students. She also knows that many students wouldn’t come to school if it wasn’t for the one arts class on their schedule. When looking at the statistics, O’Neal said students in art classes are 44 percent less likely to use drugs than their peers and outperform their peers by 91 points on the ACT or SAT.

“They’re excited to create and problem solve,” she said. “For many, art is the only reason they come to school. It’s been five years with no chorus at Macon Middle and 11 years with no art at Macon Middle.”

Carolyn Johnson, a member of the Macon County Arts Association, said arts education also has a major impact on how students perform in academics. Arts students show gains in math, science, reading comprehension and critical thinking. Music and art also improve students’ concentration and motivation. 

Sarah Johnson, who attended Otto Elementary, Macon Middle and Franklin High, said music was the only class she enjoyed in school and what got her through high school. Now with a 5-year-old son of her own about to enter into Macon County Schools, she wants to ensure his love of music is fostered through the curriculum.

Macon County Educator John deVille said arts classes were at the top of the list when they polled students and teachers to ask what they wanted to see added. He asked commissioners to consider approving the school system’s budget request, which includes funding for additional art and music teacher positions. 

At one point during the public comments, Commissioner Ronnie Beale asked if speakers had contacted their state representatives about additional funding from the state to allow the school system to hire more art and music teachers. 

“Coming out of COVID, students have been in isolation. It’s shown without a doubt arts helps with mental health,” he said. “The state should fund these positions. Why they cut it out 12 years ago I don’t know, but I appreciate the folks who recognize this and try to make a change.”

Commission Chairman Jim Tate said the board had not yet seen the school board’s budget request yet, but would take everyone’s comments into consideration during the budget process. 

“This is my tenth year as a commissioner and most every year we have spare dollars, we’ve given it to the school system,” he said. “It’s not in our best interest as a board to dictate to another board what the school system spends it on. If we increase operational expenses for the school system, it’s up to the school board whether to use it for arts funding.”

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