Prior to a recent 3-2 vote from Stokes County Commissioners to fund 50 percent of six art positions at the elementary level, Board Member Sonya Cox explained the cut to remove art happened due to a decrease in funding from the state.
“In my 14 years on the board of education, although it’s been my heart’s desire to restore these positions, we have not had the funding. We were told when they were cut 16 years ago, they would be restored when funding was available. That has been a priority of the boards that I have been a part of since, but we’ve never had the resources to add the elementary art positions back,” she said.
Cox explained there were changes made in this past year’s two-year budget cycle at the general assembly, giving the board hope art would be brought back at the elementary level.
During the 2016/17 school year, discussions began with the class size cap and what that would mean for school districts. More teachers would have to be added and additional classroom space would need to be found, and the funding was not going to be available to cover the added positions.
“This class size cap legislature has been postponed until next year,” Cox said. “Many districts were perplexed as to what they would do if this happened. There was no additional money to offset adding the needed teachers to meet this mandated class size cap. Many districts expressed if this happened they would be forced to cut the special enhancement teachers, such as PE, music, art, computer and media. They would have to instead use this money to hire more classroom teachers to meet the class size mandates.”
In an effort to protect the jobs of special enhancement teachers, the legislature’s response was to fund a separate allotment so they could not be cut.
“We were told that barring any unforeseen circumstances next year the state would fund these positions to us in a special allotment and they would fund whatever teachers we have this upcoming school year,” Cox said. “This is why this so imperative to add them now. That way we get the funding to keep them in the future. We are cognizant of the fact that many things could happen that could change the funding formula; however we have told the county commissioners should something fall through at the state level we will not request them to find these positions after this one year.”
Cox hoped to see the art positions funded for a variety of reasons.
“I feel like we are seeing districts become more competitive than ever for students. We are competing with surrounding districts, charter schools, home schools and private schools. We really have to step our game up to be the most attractive option,” she said.
Cox is confident Stokes is comparable academically with surrounding counties, much in part due to the schools, teachers and administrators, but notes charter schools have programs the county doesn’t, and it makes them more desirable.
“In Stokes County our numbers have been dropping for the past several years. I feel like this is one thing that we can do to help with that,” she said.
Sixteen years ago, when art was taken out of the elementary schools, the classroom teacher took on the new role, but Cox said this isn’t the case anymore.
“Due to the increased demands on teachers for assessments and testing that our state has demanded, sadly, the classroom teacher does not have time to spend on art related projects in the classroom. There is no doubt that arts should be a part of any well-rounded curriculum.”
Cox said there are a plethora of reputable studies proving how valuable arts are in helping to inspire and motivate children as well as boost academic achievement and promote self-confidence.
“There are proven links between arts education and improved literacy skills. We know that lower-income families often get little exposure to arts if not provided by the schools. Arts education helps close the gap between socio-economic groups. It levels the playing field so to speak,” she said.
Stokes County is the recipient of a $1.5 million grant aimed at adding a career and trades facility to the Stokes County Campus of Forsyth Technical College and Cox believes arts education prepares children to take more hands-on classes in middle and high school, which will boost the county’s career and technical education programs.
“We know that every student is not geared to go to a four-year college or university and we need to provide more vocational education and art classes in elementary will help students prepare to take more of these trade type classes.”
Stokes County has a rich heritage of artisans and musicians and Cox noted many former students are now selling their artwork in the new Arts Place, on Spotify and ITunes, holding benefits and raising thousands of dollars for the community.
“They are entrepreneurs, they are craftsman, they own studios in our county, they own stores where you can take paint classes and take your kids to art camp or have a painting party with your friends. They are helping draw people into our county. What they do promotes tourism,” she said.
“Their value cannot be measured. It’s time to change the mindset that arts shouldn’t be looked at as extra but should be looked at as integral,” Cox said.
Amanda Dodson may be reached at 336-813-2426.