Arts Education Reaches Out

By Kathleen Vail

When Asia Akins figured out how many credits she needed to graduate, she wasn’t sure if she was going to make it. A pregnancy and chaotic living conditions had put the Cincinnati Public Schools senior nearly a year behind in her classes. Still, she was determined to graduate so she could provide a better life for her new son.

A teacher told her about an arts and technology program that helped Cincinnati students recover credits and graduate on time. “I said, ‘I don’t know anything about art, but I need the credits. I’m going to have to go and make the best of it,’” Akins recalled.

Make the best of it, she did. Akins graduated on time, is enrolled at Cincinnati State College, and works as a nurse’s aide at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

The school that helped Akins transform from a potential dropout to a working, college-going adult is the Cincinnati Arts and Technology Center (CATC). A private nonprofit that works in partnership with the Cincinnati Public Schools, CATC uses the visual arts to reconnect disenfranchised students with school so they can graduate and go on to work or to higher education.

Traditionally, school districts have viewed arts education as enrichment, often curtailing or eliminating programs during tough budget times. This is particularly true in districts that already have limited resources.

However, considering art as a fringe subject may be shortsighted. Research and experience are showing that instruction in the arts can be a powerful tool in motivating and reclaiming students who don’t do well in traditional school settings, including those from impoverished families who have had little or no exposure to the arts in their lives.

“To take raw materials and make something beautiful restores the soul,” says Laura Greene-White, CATC’s director of education. “We see that happen every day.”

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