Keeping the Arts Relevant

By Leslie King

The word on the tip of the tongue is an acronym — STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics). Dedicated arts educators are making sure the “A” stands for Arts. And Radford University is instrumental in this, going beyond providing major, minor and core curriculum courses in the arts — it creates future arts educators.

To understand the University’s legacy in advocating the value of arts in the learning environment, alumni from art, dance and music education programs discuss the arts’ importance in the classroom and how they keep their teaching relevant to current generations of students.

Dianna Hale ’94 started teaching high school art in Montgomery County in 1994 and now splits her workdays between two middle schools. She understands the value of art in the classroom.

“Through art education, students experience not only academic achievement, but also develop abilities to express themselves creatively, value the perspective of others, connect with other cultures, recognize and constructively express feelings and emotions and persevere through difficult projects and circumstances,” she said.

“Education might appear to be assessment-driven right now, but art teaches students to be creative problem solvers in a world where there are multiple ways to complete  a task.”

Dance education alumna Stacey Romano ’10 agrees. Besides instructing learners in how to have control and respect their bodies, dance creates an outlet for stress and a way to create something meaningful.

“I have seen many students from various backgrounds struggle emotionally, behaviorally and educationally in academic classes, but thrive in dance,” she added. “When students find happiness and success in their school day, they tend to succeed in their other classes as well.”

Romano taught dance at a public high school for several years in Carroll County, Maryland, along with teaching at a dance center. Now she teaches at numerous studios in West Virginia.

Her counterpart from music education, Jesse Lykins ’15, teaches elementary music in Roanoke. He echoed similar sentiments about the importance of arts education and how it supports other studies, citing a specific example.

“I had a student who was seemingly incapable of talking and never spoke out during class or with classmates,” he said, “In music, however, after we had been practicing reading and speaking rhythms on a neutral syllable, the student one time burst into a rhythmic improvisation that shocked not only me, but the rest of the class as well.”

Then the question becomes how do teachers stay relevant in their fields and share this knowledge. All the alumni in this story share a commonality — they keep up with the present-day arts scene.

For Hale, she is active with state and national art educator associations and learns from student teachers, but she visits art museums to see what professional artists are producing.

Romano ties in examples of dance in everyday life. Students learn to connect with jazz from early Broadway by viewing its modern iteration in shows like “So You Think You Can Dance.” They see cultural influences from traditional African dance in today’s hip-hop.

“They analyze ads in magazines using models pretending to be ballet dancers and discuss the controversies of this trend,” she said.

Similarly, Lauren Faller ’15, an elementary music teacher in Roanoke, remains current with accessible media.

“It’s as simple as listening to the radio and making myself familiar with the current pop music trends so I can find ways to incorporate songs my students know into activities for class,” she said.

What these alumni have in common is the idea of flow — where the students have complete engagement in an activity. One student described it as looking back at a lesson and only then being aware of what they learned. This is prevalent in arts education.

Lykins summed it all up, “The key to being an effective music teacher (or any teacher, at that) is to teach without the students knowing that they are learning.”

Jun 28, 2018