CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple is encouraging schools across West Virginia to recognize the arts during March. The month is designated as national Celebrate Theatre in Our Schools Month, Music in Our Schools Month, Dance in the Schools Month and Youth Art Month.
“As a community, we must more effectively serve the learning needs of each of our children,” Marple said. “Arts education, including music, dance, theater and fine arts, is a fundamental structure that allows us to do just that. Research clearly tells us that an arts-rich education is closely aligned to gains in math and reading, and improves cognitive ability, critical thinking and verbal skills.”
More than 50 percent of West Virginia public school students live in poverty and a large percentage of those students suffer from chronic stress that interferes with concentration. Research shows that arts learning can improve not only concentration, but also motivation, confidence and teamwork.
“The arts are an important part of a well-rounded education for all students,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “All of the arts – dance, music, theater, and the visual arts – are essential to preparing our nation’s young people for a global economy fueled by innovation and creativity and for a social discourse that demands communication in images and sound as well as in text.”
One school in West Virginia where the arts is flourishing is Wyoming East High School in Wyoming County. Students are eager to become members of the theater program, started by teacher Benny Mills. The Wyoming East theater team is an eight-time state champion and is among 4,000 theater artists and practitioners studying and competing this week through Sunday at the Southeastern Theatre Conference in Chattanooga, Tenn.
“We are one of the largest high school programs in the state,” Mills said. “About one-fifth of our student body, 100 of 500 kids, participates, boys and girls equally. It has become part of our school culture.”
Theater performances in West Virginia take center stage in March during multiple area student competitions of the West Virginia Thespians. Students compete to qualify for the state thespian festival to be held in April in Charleston. The international group has its origins in 1929 in West Virginia, where three educators created the organization for high school theatre students. Today, Thespian Troupe No. 2 is still in operation at East Fairmont High School in Marion County. The organization now has 3,900 middle school and high school affiliates.
Music is the focus March 15 to 17 at the West Virginia Music Educators Conference in Morgantown, where about 300 music teachers will participate in professional development and more than 800 students will participate in band, chorus, orchestra, ensembles and soloist performances.
“When we expand strong arts programs in each and every school in West Virginia, we will be better able to serve the personal needs of students and close the achievement gap that has left many children behind,” Marple said. “The arts must be valued and supported for the role they can play in our schools.”
For more information, contact John A. Deskins with the West Virginia Department of Education at 304-558-5325, or the Office of Communication at 304-558-2699.