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Published February 23, 2012 1:01 am

Program is more than decorative
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Two problems with arts education in the public schools. One, there's not enough of it. Two, what there is can be overly compartmentalized away from the rest of the curriculum. And that means that the schools don't take full advantage of the way the arts can help focus young minds on new ideas and bits of information.

Or have you never been at once amazed and repelled by just how quickly a pop song or commercial jingle can work its way into the daily vocabulary of the youngest of children, even as multiplication tables or rules of grammar remain beyond the reach of even dedicated students?

That's what the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program is all about.

Now in its fourth year, the program serves some 30,000 students in 20 school districts around the state. The fund's namesake and the Sorenson Legacy Foundation launched the program, with financial help from the Utah Legislature, in 2008.

Taxpayer funding for the program has yo-yoed over the years, from $16 million the first year down to $658,000 in 2010. This year, the program is seeking $4 million from the Legislature — a tiny sum, really — to round out its four-year evaluation period and give it a boost toward a longer life and a broader reach.

It is the least the lawmakers could do.

The much-honored program works by bringing arts specialists into elementary schools to work alongside classroom teachers to develop ways that students can use arts techniques — drawing pictures, making up or learning songs and dances — to reinforce whatever math, science, language or social studies lessons are before the class.

Results, reported by teachers and administrators and verified by university researchers, show that such otherwise mundane tasks as learning a science vocabulary or mastering concepts of geometry go down much easier, and get remembered longer, when the students learn or create artistic ways of presenting facts or understanding concepts.

Not only that, but factors such as attendance, discipline and parental engagement are also shown to improve markedly as a result of the program's influence.

Utah legislators, often derided for not providing enough funding for public education, are not wrong when they ask if the schools couldn't adopt more innovative ways of teaching, methods that use money wisely and improve real learning.

The Sorenson Arts Learning Program is just what these lawmakers have been asking for. They should fund it.




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