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Arts education: ‘Feeling alive’

Immediately after an inspirational performance by the Kingdom Choir at the Santa Barbara Bowl, one 8-year-old student said to a volunteer, “I’ve never felt so alive!” That statement of pure joy encapsulates why arts education is so vital and such an important component of our children’s education. 

The Kids at the Bowl event that evoked the student’s reaction, a joint project of the Santa Barbara Bowl and the Children’s Creative Project (CCP), featured a free concert by the Kingdom Choir from London for 2,500 of our county’s students along with their teachers and volunteers. Students from throughout Santa Barbara County sat, stood, swayed, sang, and waved their arms as they listened to the moving music at the Bowl. 

The Choir had performed with Gladys Knight at the Hollywood Bowl the previous night, and sang “Stand By Me” for the children at the Santa Barbara Bowl – the same song they performed at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markel. Beyond singing, the Choir engaged with the audience, talking about musical chords, improvisation, and shared a message of hope and self-value that was moving and inspiring to all. 

Special events like this musical performance are just one of the many ways in which CCP, an arts program of the Santa Barbara County Education Office, impacts our students. In the 2018-2019 school year, CCP provided 50,000 students with arts education in 107 schools countywide. It funded 557 multicultural performances in 82 schools and sponsored another spectacular performance for students in April in partnership with the Santa Barbara Bowl.  

Engaging in the arts, including visual and performing arts, music, and dance has proven powerful for students. Continuing the focus on arts education, our office will soon be honoring Bree Jansen, the 2020 Santa Barbara Bowl Performing Arts Teacher of the Year who teaches at Lompoc High School, at our annual “A Salute to Teachers” celebration. 

Bree shared, “No matter the background, physical or cognitive ability, or past experiences a student has, they are able to participate in the arts in some way, no matter if it is simply appreciating a work of visual art or performing in full-scale productions.” 

She explained that through arts education, children can gain mastery at their own pace, strengthening the belief that “all students possess natural talents which, when given the opportunity to develop, enrich the lives of the students as well as everyone around them.” 

Districts throughout Santa Barbara County promote and advocate for arts in their schools. 

At a recent visit with Michele Frantz at Joe Nightingale Elementary School in Orcutt, the 2020 County Teacher of the Year’s classroom was full of beautiful displays of artwork created by students through the support of the active and highly effective Orcutt Children’s Arts Foundation. Superintendent Dr. Deborah Blow and principal Kate McInerney expressed appreciation for the foundation, which supports arts in classrooms throughout the Orcutt Union School District. 

When I visited San Marcos High School recently with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, one student we met shared about his love of theater arts and advocated for arts education for every student in the nation. He said the arts inspire and energize him, and he wishes everyone could experience what he feels every day at school.  

Also on the south coast, Sing!, is the first community choral program of the Music Academy of the West (MAW). MAW provides free professional choral instruction after school for students ages 7 – 12. In partnership with SBCEO, Sing! recently expanded from three schools to six, with future plans to expand further. Through performances and collaborations with artists, the program aims to help children gain confidence, work together, learn about their own and others’ cultures, expand their imagination, and include music as essential parts of their lives. 

As September — the month when we celebrate National Arts in Education Week — is coming to a close, we are thankful for our arts partners who make an impact all year long. Thank you to the volunteers, board members, and sponsors of arts education. Thank you also to the educators, administrators, and supporters of our county’s students. Your dedication and commitment provide our youth with experiences in creativity, the joy of expression and inspiration, and with moments that help them “feel so alive!”