Our Students Need Fine Arts Programs
By JC Pineda
I remember starting high school as a quiet kid with few friends. Then, I found band and over the next four years, I never wanted to leave the band room. It was my home away from home; I made lifelong friends, had some of my best teachers, and found my confidence. The same is true for Armando. As a freshman, Armando was a shy and quiet student who struggled to maintain his grades. Then he signed up for marching band. The transformation was amazing. From one month to the next, Armando became a different student. He was smiling more. He had his own group of friends, all in band. His grades not only greatly improved, but they stayed that way. By the end of that football season, Armando found a place of his own on his campus that allowed him to flourish socially and academically. The ultimate result was a visibly happier student who wanted to be in school.
The good news is that Armando’s story is not unique. As a public high school band director in a predominantly low-socioeconomic Hispanic community, I have seen many students like Armando transform and flourish during their years in band. I have seen students who never thought higher education was possible become the first in their family to attend and graduate college. I have seen students who have struggled with English as a second language acquire fluency with confidence by their graduation. I have seen students who struggled with their own identities find a loving and accepting home inside their own band rooms.
This is the power of not just band, but of fine arts education. Fine arts classes address the calls for enhanced student social-emotional learning by providing a healthy outlet in a safe, productive environment while also equipping students with important life skills such as goal setting, teamwork, and time management. Many fine arts programs that adhere to the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) and the University Interscholastic League’s (UIL) policies address the calls for improved academic performance because students have to pass their classes if they are to take part in performances or competitions.
Now for the bad news: Stories like Armando’s often go unnoticed, especially after the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on students, their families, and their schools. As campuses across our state continue to address concerns regarding student performance in reading, science, and mathematics, it often comes at the expense of student opportunities to fully participate in fine arts programs. I have witnessed students being denied elective courses in order to be double-blocked into English Language Arts or mathematics classes because their state test scores were deemed too low from the previous school year. Additionally, fine arts budgets are consistently reduced from year to year, making it more difficult for their teachers to sustain any program successes and student interest due to a general lack of resources. At the end of the day, many fine arts programs are not treated equitably to other academic areas regardless of the good they do for our students.
Fortunately, at the state level, Texas legislators have preserved the existence of fine arts programs in schools by maintaining their credit requirement for graduation. HB 4545 has ensured that fine arts instructional time is not impeded upon to make up for student learning in other content areas. But is this truly enough? Across the state, parents must continue to show their own support by first allowing their children to fully participate in fine arts programs with the same levels of vigor as in their other courses, and then being as present as possible in their child’s participation. Campus administration and central office personnel must engage in meaningful conversation with their fine arts teachers, observe their classrooms, and see for themselves why their support of the fine arts is just as important as their support of other academic and extra-curricular areas. Only then may we see equitable treatment and allotment of resources for these programs and more student successes like Armando’s.
Armando has now entered his sophomore year of high school as a more confident and motivated young man, excited for what is in store this school year. This is all thanks to his band program. By equitably supporting fine arts education, not only will we meet the demands for deeper achievements in student social-emotional learning and academic performance, but we will also exceed them.
Jose (JC) Pineda is a Band and Color Guard Director at Riverside High School in El Paso. He is a Teach Plus Texas Senior Policy Fellow.