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During the past several years, there has been an emphasis in education on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in schools and after-school settings. Major companies like ConEdison and government agencies offer STEM grants for educational projects. However, parents and educators alike believed that there was a missing element from the focus on STEM, and that academic proficiency could be boosted by incorporating the arts into the educational focus. With this modification, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) was implemented. And now, private companies and city institutions are providing funding to help schools implement STEAM into their curriculum.

It has been proven that the arts are an integral component of learning. Motor skills, language, and visual learning are just a few areas of development that are positively affected by the arts. Also, cultural awareness and academic performance increase in children that are exposed to the arts.

“In a 2012 analysis of longitudinal research on the relationship between arts engagement and students’ academic and social outcomes, the National Endowment for the Arts found that youth of low socioeconomic status with a history of high arts engagement had better grades and higher college enrollment and attainment rates than youth without such involvement,” noted Adarsh Alphons, the founder of Project Art (an organization that offers after-school and summer arts programs in libraries).

Some companies, like Blick Art Materials, are giving a helping hand. Each year, Art.com hosts a program called “Art Sparks Learning.” Three schools from across the nation are selected to compete for a $1,000 grant from Blick to go towards art supplies. New York’s own Global Community Charter School in Harlem was this year’s winner. The school not only won the $1,000 prize, but also received 18 pieces of printed artwork.

This prize will help the charter school achieve its mission statement: “all students are entitled to an exciting and enriching school experience.”

“[Global Community Charter School] believes that exposure to the arts enriches learning in all subjects, and this is a vital part of its curriculum,” said the school upon receiving the prize. “Winning this competition helps it continue to provide its students with tools for self-expression, nurture them as artists, and help strengthen their creative minds.”

The school currently serves students in kindergarten through third grade. The curriculum is rigorous and inquiry-based, with a focus on cultural awareness and community, emphasizing global citizenship and local responsibility. When selecting the 18 pieces of artwork from Art.com, the teachers were thoughtful in including the students’ cultural backgrounds in the decision making — which is something that they do in the their art program as well. This gift has led to a sense of excitement and pride for the young students.

The city’s institutions are aware that more jobs demand creative thinking and helping kids to hone that skill is compatible with New York State’s Common Core Standards which strive for “college and career readiness.” However, in the spring of 2014, a report released by the city comptroller stated that a number of public schools in low-income areas of the city offer limited or no arts education. To change this, museums and arts organizations are partnering with public schools, and philanthropists are providing funding to expand offerings.

Recently, the Whitney Museum of American Art received a $2 million donation from the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation to support educational programming in the museum setting, allowing it to expand its audiences and expose more children and families to the arts.

Now, the Studio Museum in Harlem is planning to replace its current building with a new, larger, customized space to continue showcasing the works by artists of African descent right in the heart of the neighborhood, where schools like Global Community Charter School are located. Local teachers are making note of this and are going out on their own to find ways to expand exposure to the arts in their lesson plans, even when the funding is not there.

Shnieka Johnson is an education consultant and freelance writer. She is based in Manhattan, where she resides with her husband and son. Contact her via her website, www.shniekajohnson.com.

Updated 4:57 pm, July 9, 2018
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