Column: Putting the arts in Stillwater area elementary schools

Tom Nelson

Tom Nelson

By Tom Nelson

We live and work in one of the most picturesque places in all of Minnesota. The world of art surrounds us each and every day. It is a where we go for relaxation, enjoyment and stimulation. The arts refresh our spirits and give us inspiration as we attempt to put meaning into our fast-paced lives filled with constant change and challenges.

One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is an appreciation of the arts. Not everyone will paint a beautiful picture or play the piano or sing on stage, but we all can enjoy the talents that surround us and make our lives better.

Let me share a short story about my father-in-law, Bill. Bill worked his entire life in a factory, doing the same task over and over on a production line. This was his world of work and what he did to support his family. He did not complain. He simply did what was expected of him.

Now this may not sound like a very fulfilling life, but you need to get to know Bill a bit better. He had this wonderful garage, filled with tools and welders and brushes and metal and canvas. Every day after work, Bill created. He painted, and he welded metal together into small figurines. In our home today we have his paintings hanging on the walls and his sculptures on the bookcases. He never had any formal training and did not think of himself as an artist, but an artist he was. He also entertained his family by playing the guitar and enjoying music. The arts helped give meaning to Bill’s life.

The Stillwater Area Public Schools have been and continue to be one of the premier school districts in Minnesota when it comes to the arts. We have grown to expect great performances by our bands, orchestras and choirs, as well as our visual arts and theater. We have tremendous teachers who have built outstanding programs for our students and our communities. And we have many alumni who have gone on to successful careers in the arts — from opera singers and actors to graphic artists and animators. We also have alumni who have had highly successful careers in engineering and design — an often overlooked expression of artistry and creativity.

This fall we are excited to increase opportunities for our students by adding art as a regular part of our elementary school program. This will ensure that art is no longer an extra provided to some of our students by parent groups or teachers with a special talent, but rather, a part of our regular curriculum for all students. Not only will every child have an opportunity to appreciate the arts, but artistic expression will be integrated into other subject areas like science and math. This will provide all students with an exciting STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) experience.

It is a proven fact that students who stay involved with the arts perform at a higher level in their academics, and are more likely to graduate. The arts develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and expand innovation and creativity. Involvement with the arts promotes success and increases self esteem in our students.

The arts are an important part of this community. The next generation of artists, performers, designers, and engineers is now entering our schools. We are excited to work with our families and community to provide an environment where they have the opportunity to explore and develop their curiosity, talents and interests in the arts.

Tom Nelson is the interim superintendent for Stillwater Area Public Schools. Contact him at nelson@stillwaterschools.org

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