What Students Have to Gain From the Arts

What Students Have to Gain From the Arts

By NAfME Member Matthew Stensrud

“The simple fact is, every child in this country needs and deserves access to the subjects that go into being a well-rounded, well-educated person. Music and art; world language; physics, chemistry, and biology; social studies, civics, geography and government; physical education and health; coding and computer science – these aren’t luxuries that are just nice to have. They’re what it means to be ready for today’s world.” – former U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King

Reading Brooke Haycock’s “A Tale of Two Seventh-Graders” speaks to the impact that arts education can have on a student — from increasing such academic skills as spatial reasoning and higher-level thinking to developing essential social skills like risk-taking, self-confidence, and empathy. As a music teacher in a Title I elementary school, I realize these truths with my students as they overcome adversity in group dance projects, deepen their creativity when improvising a melody on the xylophone, and grow their critical thinking skills when categorizing classical works.




Beyond a single classroom such as mine, advocates, families, educators, and policymakers committed to education equity must also remain committed to having the arts in our schools.


Because low-income students often have the most to gain from an arts-rich curriculum.

A report from the National Endowment for the Arts shows that low-income students with a high level of arts experience in school are more likely to pursue college, vote, and volunteer in their community. Further, studies on socioeconomic status and the arts have found that the relationship between arts participation and academic achievement is strongest for the lowest income students. Here’s how:

Each of these studies makes one thing quite clear: We cannot afford to lose the arts in our schools — especially high-need schools. Whether it is an eight-year-old English language learner using music to increase their language comprehension or a 12-year-old participating in after-school theater instead of getting into drama on the streets, the arts are an important piece of a child’s educational experience.


Rawpixel Ltd/iStock/Thinkstock
Rawpixel Ltd/iStock/Thinkstock


We saw it first-hand at Charles R. Drew Charter School and Graham Road Elementary School, previous recipients of our Dispelling the Myth Award. Both schools serve large percentages of low-income students and students of color, and when they received the award, both credited the integration of the arts into rigorous reading, math, and science curricula for their success in promoting critical thinking skills, teamwork, creativity, and community engagement.

The data makes it clear that the arts impact students’ lives. The seventh-grader in Brooke’s piece embodies it on the brightly lit stage. Secretary King witnesses it in schools across the country. And I see it on the smiling faces and blossoming minds of students in my classroom each and every day.


Follow Matthew on Twitter at @matthewstensrud


About the author:

LOCATION: HARPERS FERRY, WV DATE: November 23, 2013 -- CAPTION: Engagement Session of Matthew and Michael. CREDIT: Jay Premack
LOCATION: HARPERS FERRY, WV DATE: November 23, 2013 — CAPTION: Engagement Session of Matthew and Michael. CREDIT: Jay Premack

NAfME member Matthew Stensrud is currently in his seventh year teaching kindergarten through fifth grade general music at Annandale Terrace Elementary School, a Title I school in Fairfax County, Virginia. He received his Master of Music Education from George Mason University and Bachelor of Music Education from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. He completed his Orff Schulwerk certification at the San Francisco International Orff Course in 2013, frequently writes about and presents workshops on the unique combination of Responsive Classroom and Orff-Schulwerk in the elementary music classroom, served on the Board of the Middle Atlantic Chapter of the American Orff Schulwerk Association and contributed to the book Responsive Classroom for Music, Art, PE and Other Special Areas. He was on the Communications Team of The Education Trust, a nonprofit education advocacy group during the summer of 2016 and is an Influence Leader for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. He lives in Alexandria, VA. 

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