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Bringing the arts back into Seattle schools

Jennifer Wing

Will providing  greater access to the arts boost academic achievement? 

Seattle Public Schools is betting it will, and is working to bring arts education into more of its elementary and middle schools.

Last year, the district landed a $1 million grant to figure out which students have access to certified art teachers and activities such as drawing, music, and ceramics. Not surprisingly, the biggest gaps were found in the Central District and South Seattle. 

The effort to bring arts education to all elementary and middle schools is being led by Carri Campbell, the district’s visual and performing arts manager.

“So at the elementary level, the first time kids were getting any access to music was the fourth grade. The instrumental music program can’t provide access for all of the kids who want to participate,” said Campbell.

Holes in arts education became clear when the district started assigning students to neighborhood schools a few years ago. Parents no longer have the flexibility to send their kids farther away to schools that offer regular art and music classes.  

Now, the district is working to make sure all students have access to the arts by being strategic with the money it has and by teaming up with more non profits such as Artscorp.

Campbell says Madrona K-8 is a good example of a school that went from having no formal arts classes three years ago to having resident artists in the building and a band program.  

Fifth-grader Rachel Anderson is 11 years old and plays the saxophone. It’s a big part of her life.

“I don’t watch as much TV, because I have to practice. I like to give concerts to my family," she said. 

Another student who plays the flute says her instrument calms her down when she’s really mad. This is what the district is hoping a renewed focus on arts education will do.

In the years to come, school officials will study whether better access to the arts will result in higher test scores, better attendance and lower discipline rates.

Jennifer Wing is a Producer for our weekly show, Sound Effect.