By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, Neepawa Banner & Press
NEEPAWA, Man. — This is always an exciting time in Neepawa. Last week, after months of hard work and practice, students at Neepawa Area Collegiate Institute took to the stage for the biennial major production. This week, the students at Hazel M. Kellington elementary school will perform their annual Operetta. Across the region, students are taking to the stages and galleries to perform and showcase the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work.
While I wasn’t able to make it to this year’s major production, I’m sure it was a great show. It always is. I’m always amazed by the students’ talent and I can’t help but think about the extremely valuable skills they are learning, while they probably just think they’re having fun.
The hard skills students learn at school — reading, writing, math — are important, but so too are the soft skills. Any manager knows the ability to work with others, to show up prepared, to strive to improve, to speak in front of a group, to engage an audience, to be confident, can at times be most important factors in a young person’s success. No matter how many times you solve for “x,” you will never learn these vital skills. You won’t find them in any textbook, yet they are crucial to developing young adults who will become valued members of our communities.
Like anything else, learning these skills takes time and practice. Having opportunities to practice in high school, when the stakes are low, is extremely beneficial. I know a lot of adults who struggle to stand in front of a crowd and when you’re an adult, it matters. It matters that you can speak confidently to your customers and clients, it matters that you can articulate your business idea to potential investors, it matters that you can speak to organizations and government to advocate for your ideas and needs. As an adult, the stakes are so much higher and there are far fewer opportunities in which to practice. I know people who wish they had been required to learn more of these skills in high school.
Beyond these work-related skills, research has shown that education in the arts helps students’ spatial reasoning, creativity and social development. It can also increase their motivation for learning.
Often, we see arts programming get cut when governments bring in austerity measures and in some provinces, it’s a real struggle. There, access to arts programming in schools is limited by classroom space and the availability of trained teachers, and tools, such as instruments or art supplies.
Given the current climate in our province, I was happy, and a bit surprised, to see the provincial government announce a new arts education grant earlier this month. On May 7, the province announced that they were renaming the Music Month grant and expanding it to include dance, dramatic arts, visual arts and music. It’s not a lot of money; for the 2019 to 2020 school year, a total of $20,000 (up from $10,000) will be available to all school divisions, in all regions, in all grades, but it’s more than it was.
Creativity is an inherently human characteristic. Our world is increasingly automated and the future will require people to do the things only humans can. In this reality, fostering creativity is also building for students’ futures. There are people who believe funding arts education is unnecessary, but to cut this programming is a false economy, it borrows from the future to pay for today.