Art teacher Elisa Tucci, who presented the curriculum, the first approved since 1968, explained that since the letter-day cycle was implemented in the elementary schools, students only have art once every six-day cycle, and then only for 40 minutes. This means students have a total of 20 hours of art per year.
In fact, there is so little time that the approved curriculum includes units for only six months, even though students attend school for ten months. Tucci said this is because she and fellow art teacher Jodi Adams-Hill typically only see students three times a month, and that is in a perfect world without snow days or special assemblies that take students out of art class. The curriculum as written allows for “breathing room,” and for teachers to get their students involved in special projects that may only be available at certain times of year.
Trustee Florence Hyatt asked whether that was enough time to allow students to be creative as well as meet the standards assigned by the state. Tucci said if she was being honest, no, there wasn’t enough time.
One of the requirements imposed by the state is that art classes incorporate English Language Arts. Tucci said she does this in various ways, including reading stories at the beginning of classes with kindergarten students, and having older students write artist statements for the pieces they create. She said she has been “blown away” by the writing she’s seen. She thinks students feel a freedom when they are writing about art they have created. They have ownership over it, and don’t feel intimidated as they might when writing about something another artist created. While she enjoys this aspect of the curriculum, time constraints mean students do not have time to write about every project they create.
She said what is being expected of the students has doubled while the time has been cut in half. Tucci said years ago, students had art for one hour every week, making the total time 40 hours per year. On top of the limited time she and Adams-Hill have with the students, their student load is high. Tucci has 706 students, since she sees every student at Cahill and Morse. Adams-Hill sees every student at Mt. Marion and Cahill.
Trustees Krista Barringer and Damion Ferraro asked why these changes had been made, whether it was financial and whether the district was constrained by mandates from the state.
Board President Bob Thomann said he believed it was driven by the state, with its current emphasis on preparing students for testing over things like arts education, which he said State Ed sees as optional.