HUNT COLUMN: Setting the stage for success

Published 11:30 am Wednesday, September 14, 2022

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By Cathy Hunt
Troup County School System Chairwoman

It’s National Arts in Education Week! In 2010, Congress declared that the week beginning with the second Sunday in September would have this designation. 

Troup County School Superintendent Brian Shumate likes to talk about the typical “band kid,” his point being that statistics show high school students who are involved in band have a near 99% graduation rate. This is probably also true for chorus kids, drama kids, dance kids, and orchestra kids. Students who find a home in a performing arts group become part of a team working toward a common goal — to put on a successful and entertaining show — and those kinds of connections make them want to come to school.

“Research has shown impressive benefits of arts education on entire school culture — especially student motivation, attitudes, and attendance. Numerous reports discuss the ways increased access and involvement in Arts Education encourages students to stay in school, succeed in school, succeed in life and succeed at work.” This is according to the Americans for the Arts website, where you can find links to those reports.

As a high school theater director, I was able to see scores of students, including my own daughters, blossom personally as their stage experience grew. Applause is always good for self-esteem, but the intangible rewards are what really matter. Among these are growth in creativity, problem-solving, focus, dedication, discipline, empathy, perseverance, collaboration skills and social awareness.

Our school system offers many opportunities in the fine arts, especially for high school students. The strings program is expanding rapidly at the middle schools. Our new strategic plan emphasizes connection (which fine arts nurture) and equity, meaning that a student from any socioeconomic level must have access to special programs. One of our weaknesses is that we don’t have full-time art and music teachers at the elementary level. A big reason is that the state doesn’t pay salaries for these teachers, and when you’re trying to decide whether to fund big ticket items such as metal detectors, security personnel, nurses, social workers … society’s failures unfortunately manipulate our priorities.

While most of our performing arts students will not go on to become professional actors or musicians (though a few do!), and most of our athletes will not make a go of it in professional sports (though a few do!), all students who take advantage of extracurricular activities are more likely to succeed in school and in life than their uninvolved counterparts. Additionally, passions cultivated in school will go on to enrich their lives exponentially.

I am a case in point. Involvement in drama helped transform me from a terribly shy, self-conscious high school freshman into a confident leader in college and beyond. I have stayed active in community theater throughout adulthood. 

It is my hobby, my fun, my escape from the stresses of the real world. 

The friendships I have made are some of the most important of my life. The whole process of bringing a production to life forges supportive relationships and makes delightful memories. And I get to meet new people in every show. 

Having said that, I’ll end with a shameless plug for the Lafayette Theater Company’s production of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” this Thursday through Sunday at the LSPA black box theater on Bull Street. It’s hilarious whether you know much about Shakespeare or not. The cast are having a great time “playing” together though we range in age from 14 to 62. I won’t divulge who the senior member of the cast is. She’s moving a little more slowly these days, but she’s not ready for the old actors’ home yet!