Students benefit from business-arts partnerships

by Lynne W. Jeter

Published: July 24,2000

Nearly 200 business and school leaders from across the state attended the Mississippi Arts Commission’s (MAC) Whole Schools Initiative recently to explore roles that art can play in producing better workers.

Teams of eight, including teachers, principals, superintendents, parents, business and community representatives, attended the week-long training institute at Millsaps College in Jackson, a training ground for schools involved in education reform through the arts.

“Mississippi’s program is quickly being recognized nationwide for its comprehensive, professional training that gives educators the vision and the tools to provide more innovative ways of teaching every child,” said MAC executive director Betsy Bradley.

More than 60 business leaders attended a special mid-week business program, “Business, Arts, Schools: The Art of Leadership,” funded by the John N. Palmer Foundation, that examined how businesses and schools can work together, Bradley said.

“It’s not only important for businesses to realize why they need to support these efforts, but it’s also important for businesses to recognize what they have to gain from it,” she said. “These schools are creating models for learning that are going to be important to businesses as they create better workers that they need by teaching them teamwork, discipline and a sense of accomplishment. It’s hard to teach that in theory. When you learn it, those patterns turn over into the workplace.”

“In a much more pragmatic sense, when businesses are relocating, they want to move to places where the employees’ children will have opportunities of being in a good environment and their families can have cultural opportunities and this is a part of that,” she said.

Steven Bingler of New Orleans, an architect and community planner, told institute attendees that $18 billion is spent on new school construction in the U.S. every year — but most schools are being built the same way they were 50 years ago, around a factory model of education.

“In fact, most school buildings end up looking like factories, and the students say they look like prisons,” he said. “Questions have been raised about whether or not the buildings are meeting educational requirements because the business environment has changed tremendously in the last 50 years, and so has education, while, for the most part, the schools have not. Most of our schools are being built in ways that isolate students, and isolate teachers, from the real world.”

At the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., the Ford Motor Company recently established Henry Ford Academy to develop a new model of education, Bingler said.

“It is not sponsored by the Ford Foundation and is not a philanthropic venture,” he said. “It was sponsored by Ford Motor Company’s Department of Education and Workforce Training after the company learned they had to spend $75,000 to $100,000 to retrain high school graduates. Ford Motor Company, ironically enough, was one of the leaders in creating the factory model school because industry needed a factory model of education to train people to work in factories. But now they recognize the need for a change to a more creative environment.”

Nearly 400 students learn in the Ford Museum, which has artifacts that represent the innovations of, and was dedicated to, Thomas Edison, an artist, scientist and Henry Ford’s mentor, Bingle said.

“It makes good business sense to analyze how our public schools are being designed educationally and physically because we all know that form follows function,” he said. “If that function is to make education more relevant to the work students will be doing when they graduate, they are more connected to a concept of lifelong learning.”

The MAC developed the institute after completing a study that showed the effects of students when arts programs were cut from schools, Bradley said.

“Nine years ago, we initiated a pilot program where we worked with comprehensive whole school reform in public schools,” she said. “Over the next eight years, we added a school a year to the program and brought the arts into schools so that every student received instruction by arts teachers, and every teacher incorporated art into their regular instruction. We evaluated that every year, with very good results, such as better teaching, higher test scores, lower dropout rates and increased parental involvement.”

Last summer, when MAC moved the program from a pilot to an institutional phase, the summer training institute was incorporated into the curriculum and 12 new schools were brought into the program, she said.

“Our economy is changing into an economy that’s knowledge-based, but we’re still teaching the way we did when we had an industrial and agricultural society,” she said. “We need different workers with different skills. We need them to solve problems, to be able to create futures that we can’t imagine, to be able to work with people from other cultures and to be disciplined. Research has shown that when arts are in the school, these skills are developed faster and better in students.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or (601) 853-3967.

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