More than 100 educators and policy makers from around the state of Maryland gathered at Hopkins' Homewood campus on Thursday, Jan. 8, for a first-ever summit on the importance of the arts in primary education.
The two-day event, hosted by the university and the state Department of Education, was convened as a way for educators, researchers and legislators to share research and experiences about how the study of music, dance, theater and the visual arts in school significantly improves students' ability to learn and their behavior in social activities like community involvement.
"For years, those of us in the arts have had a strong sense that the arts make a huge difference in kids' lives," said Eileen Cline, a senior fellow in the Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies and summit coordinator. "[Research] has shown that it can have this terrific impact on the brain. What they're telling us is that what we knew is, in fact, true. This is exciting."
Participants, including Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and state Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick--who also served as summit host--heard from several of the country's leading researchers on the role of the arts on students and from funders who have helped underwrite arts in education programs that have shown positive curricular results.
It made sense to hold the summit in Maryland, Cline said. The state has mandated that by the year 2000 all students will have significant arts education in public schools. Cline said she and other organizers strove to make sure participants would not just be part of an audience but part of the discussions as well.
In an afternoon discussion after the research presentations, some participants questioned the ability of school districts to overcome the hurdles of cynicism and little money in order to enhance arts opportunities.
"We are very poor, and money is a problem for us," said Joe Nelson, superintendent of public schools in Bertie County, N.C. His district raised more than $3.5 million for schools, in part by forming alliances with other youth agencies.
"It can be done," Nelson added. "Do you stick your neck and butt out for it? Yes, in a sling."