March is a month to celebrate visual art and music in schools with Youth Art Month, sponsored by the Council for Art Education, and Music in our Schools Month, sponsored by the National Association for Music Education.
The importance of arts in our schools has been proven time and time again. According to the advocacy website DoSomething.org, students who study music tend to have larger vocabularies and more advanced reading skills than peers who do not; students who study art are more likely to be recognized for academic achievement
and school attendance. In the District, arts and music thrive through unique and rigorous programs that cannot be found in other area schools. In March, we celebrate the guitar curriculum at Kennett Middle School and the ceramics and fine art programs at Kennett High School.
At Kennett Middle School, eighth-grade students have the opportunity to learn one of the world’s most popular instruments: the guitar. Between the two of them, music teachers Mrs. Patricia Mancuso and Ms. Jessica Williams have eight sections of guitar classes. The middle school has been offering the class since the 2004–05 school year.
Ms. Williams likes to keep the class contemporary by learning well-known songs like Bill Withers’s “Lean on Me,” While picking up a new instrument is difficult for anyone, with hard work, practice, and a few broken strings, the middle-school students learn to love their new skill. “This class is a lot of fun. I’ve learned a lot and I didn’t know anything when I started, but now I can switch chords pretty well,” says eighth-grade student Eduardo Guadarrama, whose favorite song to play is Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me.”
A performance ensemble like chorus and band or the guitar class can be tough, but there are those who see the advantages. Eighth-grade student Melanie Alvarado says, “It’s nice to have new learning experiences for free.”
The guitars were purchased through funds raised by the Kennett Consolidated School District Friends of Music, a parent-driven nonprofit that supports all music programs in the District, along with startup money from the District.
The students’ enthusiasm for the guitar is a snapshot of the role music education plays in their studies. “It’s really exciting to see students be musically creative, even if they don’t think they’re ‘musically inclined,” adds Ms. Williams. “They’re learning that they can be a part of music, too.”
Over at Kennett High School, students are offered exceptional artistic training in both ceramics and classic artistic mediums. in Mr. Thomas Hironimus’s fine-arts classroom, students study media and techniques like graphite, acrylic, and charcoal.
“My main goal is to prepare students for later in life, either in a higher education setting or to have the skills to pursue art on their own,” said Mr. Hironimus. He described his own art education and the skills gap he had when pursuing an art degree, which inspired him to go into education. His students are passionate and dedicated to their work; they have achieved high marks at the Chester County High School Art Festival in past years, held at the Chester County Art Association. Kennett High School enters 24 pieces of art every year, out of the nearly 500 pieces from around Chester County, and has placed first in several categories over the past eight years. Mr. Hironimus has even seen parents’ art displayed at local galleries. “We’re lucky to have a community that supports the art program at the high school.”
Students have also found success studying art in higher education, like at the Tyler School of Art, Kutztown University, and Millersville University. Next year, twelfth-grade student Maddie Conlin-Day plans to study textile design at the Savannah College of Art and Design, one of the most prestigious art institutions in the country. “Every day in the art room is a great day,” says Maddie. “I learned everything I know about art here.”
Students looking for something a little more “hands-on” can pursue the ceramics course, a yearlong class that is offered all four years (Most schools only offer an elective like this for part of the year.) “It really allows students to dive deep and hone their skills,” says high-school pottery teacher Mrs. Jodi Davidson.
“It’s a huge confidence builder for a student to take a piece of clay and create things they never thought they could,” adds Mrs. Davidson. “I still fall in love with the craft as a teacher and artist watching my students create.”
Students in the ceramics program begin with foundational skills, hand-building sculptures with clay and creating basic ceramics.
As they move up, they learn to throw pieces on the wheel and make bigger projects, including sculptural pieces. Projects range from utilitarian tools, like mugs and bowls, to artistic projects, like masks inspired by world cultures.
Mrs. Davidson has been an artist since she was young—in high school, she created her own jewelry and clothing. She pursued her love of art at West Chester University, earning a degree in fine arts. After graduation, Mrs. Davidson fell in love with teaching art and eventually went back to school for her master’s in art education from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. “Going to school for art is doable, and I love seeing students pursue their passion for art after high school,” added Mrs. Davidson.
Even for students who do not pursue art in higher education, participating in the ceramics course cultivates a love for art that
gram is undertaking a mosaic project to decorate the hallways of the art classrooms. The students mold and glaze the tiles in the school and help construct the mosaic, which is projected for completion at the end of the school year. embodies why art education is important. “Having a creative outlet is really important for all people,” added Mrs. Davidson.
Currently, the ceramics program is undertaking a mosaic project to decorate the hallways of the art classrooms. The students mold and glaze the tiles in the school and help construct the mosaic, which is projected for completion at the end of the school year.