Study after study has shown that arts education is a powerful and important component of adolescent learning. Dance, drama, music, and visual arts provide outlets for creativity, instill discipline, and help us to understand and analyze the world around us.
Research also shows that the academic gains students achieve with high arts participation are greatest for struggling, low-income students at the most risk of academic failure. A decade-long study of after-school programs for low-income youth found that arts programs attracted higher-risk students than sports and had far greater academic and developmental benefits.
What’s more, arts programs in the school also provide opportunities to engage parents in their students’ work in ways that traditional academics might not.
Tom Hall, an English and theater arts teacher at Howenstine High Magnet School in Tucson, Arizona — an intensive support site of NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign — knows the importance that theater arts can have in a high school setting. He’s also well cast as a high school drama teacher – he’s played a featured role in the western “Posse” and had parts in the TV series “Legend” and “The Magnificent 7? for CBS. He’s also a member of the Screen Actors Guild for work he’s done in westerns on the silver screen.
The Priority Schools Campaign (PSC) caught up with Hall to talk about the importance of arts education and how his program helps brings families into the high school.
PSC: First, can you talk about why a theater arts department so important at the high school level?
Hall: Well, it’s important not only at the high school level, but at every level. But in high school especially, it gives the kids an outlet for their energy. It allows them to be creative and dress up and be other people. We started the drama class last year, hoping we could put together maybe one show, and we ended up doing three shows. When we do public performances, the students have the opportunity to perform for friends and family, as well as each other.
It’s also important because it brings people into the school. Those of us involved in the Priority Schools Campaign know that research shows parent, family, and community involvement in education raises achievement and helps us improve our schools.
PSC: How did theater become a passion of yours?
Hall: I’d left a teaching job in South Carolina to work in mining and geothermal engineering in Tucson. Bored and looking for a way to fill the off hours, I started performing in community theater throughout Tucson. In 1989, when the mining and engineering fields bottomed out, I returned to teaching as a reading tutor for special needs kids. I incorporated lots of characters and funny voices in reading with kids and soon found myself setting up drama programs at local middle schools. In the meantime, I started my work in television and commercial westerns, especially when they needed big guys to play lumberjacks or desperadoes. Years later, I still take parts in local productions, my wife and I are regular members of our church’s reader’s theater, but now I am asked more to direct and adapt scripts for groups and schools, especially at Howenstine where I teach full time.