High-quality Program for Teaching Dance, Music, Drama and Visual Arts in Utah’s Elementary Schools is Boosting Academic Outcomes

How Education Benefits from the Arts

Art as a core curriculum subject is in revival in Utah elementary schools today, reversing a trend that began in the 1970s of treating arts education as worthwhile, but unnecessary. Research shows that an elementary education without the arts—dance, music, drama and visual art—misses powerful opportunities for children to gain basic learning skills directly applicable to other subjects. The arts strengthen memory, teach sequence and pattern-recognition and foster social and emotional growth.

A decade of educational research proves children comprehend math and language better when taught alongside art. Jackson Elementary students showed proficiency in math 27 percent higher than a counterpart school with similar social, economic and demographic characteristics, and language arts proficiency 18 percent higher.

How We Approach Arts Education

The best method of teaching arts to elementary school children is a problem Beverley Sorenson, a former elementary school teacher, worked on for 13 years. Her innovative Art Works for Kids program created a successful teaching model demonstrating the correlation between arts training and cognitive and personal development in children and along the way helped educate 90,000 Utah schoolchildren. With proof of significant social and behavioral benefits, Art Works for Kids set out to convince the state legislature to fully fund quality arts education in elementary schools and to make it a priority.

For Utah schools, the turn toward integrating high-quality, sequential arts education into elementary schools came in 2008, with the passage of the four-year $16 million Beverley Taylor Sorenson Elementary Arts Learning Program that dedicates funds to training and hiring art teachers and teaching artists for 59 elementary schools across the state. The goal of state educators is to expand the program to all 508 elementary schools.

Together with the Utah Arts Education Partnership, Art Works for Kids designed a top-quality statewide elementary school arts education plan. But highly qualified elementary school teachers with the latest arts education training were rare after years of low demand. To accomplish its goal, the plan needed infrastructure in place to educate new teachers, train current teachers and provide mentors and ongoing support.