Constructing a fish out of paper and decorating it with colored markers may seem like a fun break from learning about math, science and social studies for students, but the opportunity to be creative is more than just enjoyable—it also has significant academic and social implications.
Students engaged in the arts are twice as likely to graduate college than their peers who have had no arts education, according to Americans for the Arts, an organization that cultivates, promotes and supports the arts in the United States.
In Delaware, local artist John Donato and the Freeman Arts Pavilion, a program created by the nonprofit Joshua M. Freeman Foundation in Selbyville that gives Delmarva schools and the community access to the arts, are helping elevate the role of art in student education. This year, they rolled out a new initiative called the Creative Nourishment Art Kits to schools around the state to encourage students’ artistic sides.
The kits are a response to the new, not-so-normal reality students and teachers found themselves in during the COVID-19 outbreak. “The Creative Nourishment Kit initiative filled the void of arts education programs as teachers and parents continued to face the demands of remote and hybrid learning,” says Patti Grimes, executive director of the Freeman Foundation, noting that the program has benefited 30,000 students in the area.
“The arts allow for a form of expression that some students might not otherwise have an outlet for,” Grimes explains, “and inspires independent creativity and expands critical thinking skills.”
The kits include construction paper, a set of markers, a glue stick and age-appropriate instructions in both English and Spanish so students in kindergarten through Grade 12 can create their own visual arts projects. Donations to the Freeman Foundation, she says, pay for the supplies.
In the Seaford School District, for example, students received an art kit once a month in March, April and May, says Jason Cameron, the district’s human resource director and a spokesman. The district distributed approximately 500 kits to students through the district’s food pantry, which provides students in need with Foodbank Backpack meals. “We’re always about the whole child,” Cameron says. “We try to make them as well-rounded as possible and build on their strengths.”
Donato has collaborated with the Freeman Foundation on school-based art programs for six years, but due to COVID-19, going into the schools to work with students was no longer an option. “We were looking for ways to continue to engage students,” he says.
Art programs also can be a game-changer for students in at-risk communities, Donato adds. Encouraging students to be creative helps improve their self-esteem and belief in their own abilities. Donato says parents and teachers tell him students have told him, “I never knew that I could do artwork like this” and “This is the first time that I felt as good as anyone else because I could do this.”
“Artwork is a skill and as a tool is just as important as math, science and technology, and should be integrated into the curriculum as a core standard,” Donato says. “Art is not something that’s nice to have—it’s essential.”