My High School Just Cut Their Art Departments And This is Why You Should Care
31 May 2016
I grew up in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. While it's not necessarily a small town, it has a small town feel and a small town charm. If I go to the grocery store, I will see at least a dozen people that I know. My neighbors are people that my parents went to school with. My grandmother and I graduated from the same high school and sang the same alma mater on our graduation days. I know exactly how many blocks my car can go on no gas. I know all of the back roads and best ice cream places. I can tell you a personal story about all of the football stadiums, train tracks, dyke, swimming pools, parking lots and soccer fields and how they fit into the grand scheme of my life.
I went to grade school at Kistler Elementary and then attended Meyers High School until my junior year. At 17 years old, I made the decision to transfer schools to attend Coughlin High School where I graduated in 2013. I now attend college in New York where I am studying English Professional Track and Communication with a concentration in Digital Arts and Media Studies with a minor in Business and concentration in Honors. I continue to be a student athlete as a swimmer and captain at my D3 school. Right now, I am a 21-year-old-student living in New York City who has founded a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that allows college volunteers to visit children that are battling malicious diseases as their favorite characters.
My hometown shaped me. It always has. It made the person that I am today. But after hearing the news of what is happening to my hometown and my high school, I have come to the heartbreaking realization that my hometown has let me down.
My heart ached upon hearing the news that the Wilkes Barre Area School Board decided to cut the arts departments for the elementary, middle, and high schools. The Wilkes-Barre Area School Board voted 8-1 to eliminate industrial arts, art, library sciences and family and consumer sciences, some of the fundamental classes that help shape students into who they are meant to be.
Over the course of my 13+ years as a student there are countless lessons that I have been taught that made me the person that I am today.
Let me get one thing absolutely straight: my life currently revolves around dressing like a princess to visit children fighting serious illnesses. I spend my weekends traveling to homes and hospitals alike to sit on the floor with children who need a little bit of imagination to get them through an incomprehensibly difficult obstacle facing them. Far too often I see children that live in a world of grey and I do everything in my power to bring magic to them. I visit children too sick to go to school, too tired to get out of bed, and too sad to even smile. What I do would never have come into fruition if it had not been for all of my lessons in high school.
I did not chose to pursue my passion for literature by reading passages and answering questions to be measured by the state. I learned it in the second grade when my favorite part of the week was getting a new book from the library. I learned it from my seventh grade art teacher Mrs. Trievel who took the time to enter my art pieces into a local art competition and made the time on a Saturday to see me awarded a second place prize that I treasured more than anything. I learned it from my eleventh grade honors English Class when I was emerged in the incredible world of literature and realized that one day I wanted to write a book of my own.
I did not learn empathy by sitting in two weeks straight of standardized testing. I learned empathy in my art class when I saw a student capture the isolation that middle-school students so often feel in a watercolor piece without speaking a single word. I learned empathy in the ninth grade when a student told our class that the only time she felt like she belonged was when she was playing her flute in the marching band. I learned empathy when I learned to play the guitar and expressed myself until my fingers bled. I learned empathy as a student-athlete continuously as time and time again we are dismissed as dumb jocks bound to amount to nothing when I often look around and am so impressed and inspired by my fellow student athletes.
I did not learn teamwork while gnawing on the end of a number 2 pencil, stressing over the questions I struggled with most in the science portion of the standardized test. I learned teamwork when trying to construct a bridge with a classmate in my industrial arts class. I learned teamwork when I was a soccer player, a field hockey player, a swimmer, and a runner for my track team. I learned teamwork when I had to learn how to cook a decent meal in my family and consumer science class and suddenly had a lot more respect for my parents.
I did not learn that the land of make believe is powerful beyond measure by sitting in a building for 8 hours constantly tested, measured, and evaluated. I learned it from the teachers and coaches who took the time to make me feel like my ideas were important and valuable. I learned it from being cultivated in every aspect, not being dictated by budget cuts and common core.
My life has revolved around education. My parents are both educators who have always stressed the importance of doing well in school. I studied hard in high school and I was extremely lucky to have grown up in a household that made me feel empowered through education. However, there have been countless times when I needed to see what I had learned in math and science applied in other departments. To be honest, I probably would not have passed physics if I had never explored the physics behind pole vaulting (my event in track and field) in my industrial class. I wouldn't be able to balance the checkbook of my business or understand the gravity of student loans if it had not been for my family and consumer science class. It is these hands-on applications of what we are learning in our "common" classes in the "art" classes that makes a tangible learning situation.
The bottom line is we need traditional art, music, family and consumer science, industrial art, library science, natural science, mathematics, English, foreign languages, gym, health, and recess. We need the teachers in the world just like we need the authors and the lawyers and the doctors. We need the people that can design, create, think, speak, write, teach, and change. We need all of these things, all of the inter-moving parts of society that can create a world where dreams can come true and amazing things can be better than all of the bad things out there. My biggest fear is that somewhere out there in Wilkes Barre is the student who has the potential to find a cure to cancer that will get lost in the shuffle, or crumble under the pressure of constant examination, or never has an escape through art or music, or never has the teacher that shows them the potential within them that is being forgotten in these drastic decisions.
I vehemently disagree with the board on this vacuous decision, because what I learned most from the teachers that I have had over the years is that when you have a goal you want to achieve, you make it work despite the hand you have been given, not give in because there seems like there are no other options. I do believe in a world where miracles happen and happily ever after exists, and I hope that this story has one too.