Editor’s Note: The following is an interview with Dr. Jodi Duron, superintendent of the Elgin (Texas) Independent School District, and Krin Abraham, superintendent of the Houston (Minnesota) Public Schools, regarding promoting performing arts activities.
Question: As superintendent, why do you support performing arts activities in your district? How do such activities contribute to the mission of your district?
Duron: In the Elgin Independent School District, we strongly support the performing arts, as these programs (i.e., music, theater, dance, art, etc.) allow our students to express themselves in creative and imaginative ways. We believe that participation in extracurricular activities directly supports academic learning by developing habits of mind and promoting the skills that students need to be successful in the classroom.
Fine arts programs are an integral part of our school curriculum and are often the building block of promoting school pride and school spirit. Not only do these activities have a profound effect on our students and school as a whole, but also our community. All of these programs intentionally bring people together, and it is a connection that is deep and meaningful. In fact, it defines our very mantra – One Town, One Team, One Family.
Because our mission is intent on providing a high-quality education, we believe this includes offering a range of programs and experiences that will develop our students into productive, contributing and well-rounded citizens.
Abraham: The arts and non-athletic activities are a vital part of educating the whole child. These activities tap into the creative or problem-solving side of the students. Our mission is to help each student discover and develop his/her potential. If we did not support the arts and non-athletic endeavors, we would not be living out our mission statement, since our students do have talents and abilities in these areas and those talents need to be utilized and encouraged.
Question: What efforts are made to educate school board members about the value of these activities and to encourage their support?
Duron: Our school board has been very supportive of our performing arts programs. In fact, because they understand the value of these activities, they have made a firm commitment to invest in programs that improve the educational experience for our students. This is evidenced in their approval of the expansion of these programs both at the high school and middle school.
Abraham: Besides the yearly data concerning the numbers of students involved in the activities, board members are encouraged to attend plays and music performances. Board members are also informed of success our students are having in non-athletic competitions. Our school board has historically been very supportive of the arts and non-athletic events. This is true of our current board, as well, since their children have all been very active in the arts.
Question: What characteristics of your district or your student population present the biggest challenges in helping students become involved – and stay involved – in these activities?
Duron: We have a very diverse population in Elgin ISD, with 75 percent identified as economically disadvantaged. The cost to participate in some of these programs can be difficult for struggling families. Not to mention, many of our students work to help support the financial needs of their families, which, I believe, is one of the biggest challenges in keeping students involved in these kinds of programs.
Abraham: In a small school, multiple opportunities also means that students can get stretched too thin and find they “can’t do it all.” For this reason, students who are upperclassmen don’t participate at the same level as the underclassmen. Having coaches of all activities – the non-athletic and athletic – working together to create a schedule that allows for the students to participate in multiple activities, while not having to skip one practice to attend another, would be one way to lessen this problem.
Question: Are steps taken to ensure that teachers, coaches and performing arts directors encourage student participation across a wide range of activities?
Duron: Absolutely! Most of our students participate in more than one extracurricular activity, which allows our students a broad range of experiences that also provides a well-rounded education for them. While our counselors are initially involved in the scheduling process, our coaches, sponsors and directors work closely together to coordinate schedules and calendars to ensure students are able to take full advantage of the opportunities available to them.
Abraham: Our athletic director and some of the coaches are very good at trying to get this to be the culture. We do have some coach holdouts for the old system of one activity at a time. In a small school, all coaches need to be cooperative and collaborate for the best interest of the students.
Question: How does your district recognize student participation in performing arts and other activities, and celebrate and publicize their successes?
Duron: We have a great partnership with our local newspaper, and it often highlights the activities and successes of these programs. We have also recognized these outstanding programs at our Board meetings. Most recently, we sent out a newsletter to every 78621 mailbox highlighting all of our extracurricular offerings.
Abraham: The students’ successes are publicized in the daily announcements, quarterly newsletter and at biweekly school board meetings. Articles are also submitted to the area newspapers. When a student has achieved the right to participate at the state meet, whether in an athletic or non-athletic event, the student is escorted to the event by walking through the halls with the entire student body in the hallway clapping and encouraging the participant.
Treva Dayton is a former classroom teacher, forensic coach and theatre director. She has served as state director of speech and debate for the Texas University Interscholastic League and as an assistant director for the NFHS. She retired as director of academics for the UIL. Dayton is a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.