Can art education help Nebraska students academically?

James "Burke" Brickner, a second grade student at Patriot Elementary in Papillion, Neb., shows off his entry in the Doodle for Google contest. Burke represented Nebraska in the final round of the competition which was held in New York City. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)
"Fish Tales with my Dad" is the title of Burke Brickner's entry in the Doodle for Google contest. Burke's entry was chosen from 130,000 entries nationwide. His was one of 50 entries to make it to the last round of competition (Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)
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May 29, 2013 - 6:30am

Nebraska students spend countless hours studying math and science and preparing for standardized tests. However, some teachers say part of that time could be better spent fostering a child’s creative side.

Burke Brickner is a second grader at Patriot Elementary in Papillion, an Omaha suburb. He recently entered a contest called Doodle for Google. Sponsored by the internet search engine, the program invited students from around the country to stretch their imagination and redesign Google’s homepage logo.

“I’m really excited actually. I can’t believe I won for the whole state,” Burke said.

This year’s theme was “My best day ever.” Burke’s best day was an afternoon last summer, fishing with his dad.

“Even though I didn’t catch anything, I still had a great time. Really all I did after an hour was eat snacks and watch my brother catch everything, and it was a really fun day,” Burke recalled.

Burke’s dad, Jim, is a major in the Air Force. He was stationed in South Korea last summer, and took his sons fishing when he was home on leave. He said he wanted to spend quality time with them, but he never thought the trip would affect Burke so much.

Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News

Major Jim Brickner, his wife Donna, and their two sons Braeden and Burke, stand next to a display of Burke's entry in the Doodle for Google contest. Burke was the only contestant from Patriot Elementary to enter the contest, and was the state representative during the final round of competition.

“I realize the importance of it now because he picked that to be his best day ever and it was just trying to spend quality time with my two sons,” Jim said.

Of the 130,000 doodles in the Google contest, Burke made it to the final 50, and represented Nebraska in the last round of competition. He didn’t win the prize of a $30,000 scholarship, but Burke’s mom, Donna, said she’s just happy her son was able to pursue his passion.

“It’s critical for him to have that piece in his life. He’ll go to bed at night and will literally wake up out of bed and say mom I need to get this on paper just let me have 15 more minutes. He will literally come up with this fabulous piece of something that was on his brain that he just had to get out before he could rest for the night,” Donna said.

Two years ago, Burke was in a private school. His parents said the school’s art program didn’t fit Burke’s needs, so they transferred him to Patriot Elementary, where he has art class every Wednesday.

“Having the art has actually helped him want to learn to read, to do math problems, to do different things whereas before it was a little resistant on that academic part,” Donna said.

Art helping students in other areas of study is not uncommon. Patriot Elementary’s principal, Mary Scarborough, said art is just as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic.

“When you’re teaching nouns and verbs and some things that aren’t very engaging and not very interesting for kids, you have to do it in a way that engages kids. Our job as educators is to engage learners, and engaging them is easy when you can do it through the avenue of the arts,” Scarborough said.

A recent study performed by Loyola University in Chicago found students who participated in an arts education program improved their standardized testing scores by 11.5 percent in two years.

According to the Americans for the Arts Action Fund, students with an art-rich education have better grade point averages, score better on standardized tests, and have lower drop-out rates.

“I think overall art can help improve kids’ self-esteem and self-assurance in that if they can do [art], why can’t they then start to transfer those skills to other areas?” said Dr. Amanda Schnee, a child psychologist in Lincoln.

Photo by Ryan Robertson,  NET News

Dr. Amanda Schnee is a child psychologist at Williamsburg Behavioral Psychology Clinic in Lincoln. Schnee acknowledges the imporance of art education in the development of a child's brain. She says more emphasis should be put into art education as a means to help prevent negative behaviors like depression in children and adults.

Schnee uses some form of art in about 90% of her therapy sessions. She said recent studies show art can help connect the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which allows students to function at a higher level, both academically and socially.

“It’s important that we’re improving those kids who aren’t doing as well in reading and math, that we’re improving their self-esteem. If [art is] one pathway of doing that, then I definitely think that we need to emphasize art,” Schnee said.

The State of Nebraska is also doing its part to help further art education in schools.

Donlynn Rice is the Administrator for Curriculum and Instruction at the Nebraska Department of Education. She said the state is working to develop a new set of standards for visual and performing arts, standards which schools will have to meet if they want to continue receiving tax payer money.

“We’re going to be using groups of writers from around the state, just like we do with all our other standards development, to kind of talk about the big ideas in art education,” Rice said.

Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News

Donlynn Rice is the administrator for curriculum and instruction for the Nebraska Department of Education. Rice says because of the importance of art education at all grade levels, the state will soon begin the creation of a new set of standards for schools to follow. Those standards will be developed in cooperation with art experts from around the state, and will emphasize what they feel are the most important and enduring ideas in art education.

According to Rice, the goal of the new standards is to emphasize the most important and enduring ideas in all facets of art education.

“For instance in elementary grades, it’s not just a craft project in visual arts, but it’s more learning about lines and shadings and things like that--but also just the history. We have a lot of different things we can learn about the history of music and dance and visual arts that can help enrich people’s lives,” Rice said.

For students like Burke Brickner, that enrichment has made all the difference—turning him from a shy and not particularly great student, into a budding artist thinking about his future.

“I want to be an artist and a doctor is what I really want to be,” Burke said, laughing as he said he’ll prescribe for his patients to draw two pictures, and call him in the morning.



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