Posted Mar. 2, 2013 in the Rocky Mount Telegram
By Jim Holt
North Carolina’s poet laureate and Twin Counties teachers agree – exposure to the arts and humanities is essential to the development of students and their pursuit of realizing their full creative potential.
Joseph Bathanti, appointed in August by former Gov. Bev Perdue as the state’s seventh poet laureate, said the arts remind us of our culture and history and that we have hearts and souls.
“Only through our hearts and souls will society become better,” Bathanti said. “We need scientists, of course, but if we lose sight of our shared humanity, we’re really in bad shape. The arts are what makes us human. Without the arts and humanities, we wouldn’t know how to feel about things. They provide an emotional baseline.”
Exposing children to the arts at a young age gives them confidence and opens up the world in a lot of ways, Bathanti said. It also teaches them how to understand people who are different from them.
Be it the visual arts, poetry, literature or band, the arts allow children to think globally instead of locally and thus be tolerant of other cultures.
“The arts allow the students to realize they are a citizen of a state, citizen of a country and really a citizen of the entire planet,” Bathanti said.
Children all have something they are good at, and for some kids, that is art, said Kim Foster.
As a visual art teacher at Rocky Mount High School, Foster said the arts provide some students with a reason to come to school and ultimately keep them in school through the years to graduation.
“Little kids aren’t afraid to try anything,” Foster said. “At that age, everybody is an abstract expressionist. Sometimes, we get older kids who are really afraid to try because making art is really putting yourself out there. At our feeder schools, our students are exposed to the arts early on, but it is only once a week for about 45 minutes or so. Exposing these kids at a young age to the arts makes them want to pursue it.”
Every student has a talent, Foster said. Some students are better with coloring, others are better with shading or tearing paper.
“There is a clear interest in the arts at our school,” she said. “We have two full-time art teachers and another that is certified. We have more than enough kids opting to choose our program as one of their electives. We also have great support from our administrators.”
The arts couldn’t be more alive in Edgecombe County Public Schools, according to Debbie Davis, band director at South Edgecombe and West Edgecombe middle schools.
The arts are about a quality of life, Davis said.
“I’ll be the first to admit the children need the academics, but when you study the arts, it allows you to interact with the world in an expressive and ‘feelingful’ way,” Davis said. “In this test-crazy climate and the waiting for results associated with that, the arts allow you to immediately know if your work is good or bad.”
Watching the students grow through engaging in the arts is rewarding, Davis said.
“When you watch a beginner student trying to figure out how to open their instrument case at first and then see them through to when they are performing on stage – it’s just amazing,” Davis said. “We want to talk about art for art’s sake, but in this climate where we have to justify every penny we spend in education, we need to look at the fact that a vast body of research correlates art with higher test scores.”
The arts are all about instilling in students a dedication and desire to improve, Davis said.
The band director said Parker Middle School and West Edgecombe Middle School compete as rivals constantly on the field.
“In our band program, these students come together and are so respectful to one another,” Davis said. “When they meet on the athletic field – there has to be a winner. When they meet as bands, they cheer for each other and want themselves to be the best they can be.”