STEM and the arts belong in holistic curriculum

STEM education — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — currently enjoys widespread recognition as a vitally important part of academic curriculum for today’s students. But at times the voices of enthusiasm for STEM disciplines drown out the advocates for arts in education.

Yet recent research shows that studies in the arts are just as necessary and valuable as STEM academics. Plato knew this two millennia ago, when he said, “I would teach children music, physics and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all of the arts are the keys to learning.”

President Obama’s Committee on Arts and the Humanities conducted a study on the status of arts in education in the United States. The study’s report is called “Reinvesting in Arts Education.” This report “clearly shows the link between arts education and achievement in other subjects,” writes Ellen Judson at the website of the Music Empowers Foundation, Judson cites comments by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan from the foreword of “Reinvesting,” which maintain that arts education is vital to the global economy and that “creative experiences are part of the daily work life of engineers, business managers and hundreds of other professionals.” Artistic pursuits help students develop resourcefulness and imagination, problem-solving ability and collaborative skills, notes Judson.

Other studies reveal that playing or making music correlates with higher standardized test scores and better skills and grades in both English and mathematics; reduced discipline problems; higher levels of self-confidence and self-expression; and enhanced critical thinking skills. Greater involvement in extracurricular activities and volunteerism are seen in students engaged in the arts. Furthermore, a study at the University of British Columbia determined that time spent in musical pursuits does not diminish achievement in academic work, a misconception that is unfortunately still held by some.

Additional benefits of music study include enhanced spatial-temporal reasoning and strengthening of neuronal pathways in the brain, and higher-level performance in second languages.

In recognition of the fact that arts are as fundamental to a holistic education as STEM subjects are, the Contoocook Valley Visual and Performing Arts Center Committee has been working for nearly two years doing research and laying the groundwork for a new visual and performing arts center at ConVal High School. This facility would be added on to the high school, and would serve both our high school students and the entire community within our district. The Conval School Board approved the continuation of the committee’s exploratory mission in December 2013. The high school was built over 40 years ago with neither a theater nor a performance venue for music; the time is overdue to provide our students with functional spaces to exhibit artworks, perform theatrical productions, and present musical concerts. Much work remains to be done to bring this vision to fruition. The committee hopes to accomplish this project largely through grants and private funding.

It is a perpetual challenge in New Hampshire, and specifically in our district, to garner support and raise funds for educational initiatives with the sparse funding that comes only from property taxes. The hope is that individuals, families, organizations and businesses will support this project and will participate through philanthropic giving to help make the dream come true. With the help of many, we can “fill the void” that exists today at Conval High School.

For more information, and to learn how to support this initiative, readers can view the website for the Contoocook Valley Visual and Performing Arts Center at

Martha Eichler is a writer from Peterborough who is a member of the Contoocook Valley Visual and Performing Arts center committee. She has two children who have attended Conval schools; her daughter Caroline is a 2011 graduate of Conval High School, and her daughter Tory is a rising senior.

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