Saving the Arts: Why Virtual Options are the Savior of Fine Arts

Learning, Online & Blended, PreK-12

Cindy Knoblauch

Since the recession, difficult decisions and increasing budget cuts have left few school districts unscathed, with program cuts occurring across the board. Perhaps unsurprisingly, arts education has suffered the most under budget cuts, particularly in high-need communities, according to a recent Department of Education report.

Despite the fact that they are most frequently on the chopping block, arts programs are far from expendable. The power of performing arts is undeniable. There’s no question about the benefits of fine arts programs, and even in the face of budget cuts, students should be encouraged to continue their passions by joining local art classes, programs or events. These programs help students develop social skills and express themselves in a positive and emotional manner.

Exploring New Options

Art education strengthens a student’s problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Through local art classes, community programs and events, students learn valuable social and life skills, such as decision-making and learning how to take risks. When students explore and experiment with new ideas, creativity has a chance to grow. When students are encouraged to express themselves and take risks, it develops a sense of inventiveness and forward thinking, which helps them seek improvement in all aspects of their lives.

For example, students taking a theater class learn how to compellingly deliver a message and build confidence while performing on stage. Students also master dedication while practicing for rehearsals and performances, putting tremendous effort into the completion of the final piece.

Whether making decisions in art, literary or photography classes, these skills can carry over into their adult lives as well.

Art programs also help students excel in other academic areas, particularly in mathematics and reading. According to an Americans for the Arts report, young people who participate regularly in the arts are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, to participate in a math or science fair or win an academic award than students who do not participate. The arts enhance communication, listening, memory and concentration skills.  

The benefits of art programs are clear, so as traditional school programs become less available, more parents and students are exploring outside options, such as virtual fine arts programs or after school programs like choir, orchestra, theater or drama. In the 2014-15 school year, more than 1,600 Florida Virtual School (FLVS) students participated in art clubs with FLVS.

Virtual fine arts programs are often free and give students the opportunity to explore art, music, writing and other various creative programs that may not have been offered or were cut from their schools’ curricula.

An interesting aspect of these virtual fine arts programs is that although students work remotely, the programs still maintain the benefits of goal-oriented group activities. For instance, FLVS students publish a semi-annual publication called Virge: The Virtual Edge Literary Magazine, which is comprised of collected works by FLVS students. Students who participate on the Virge staff virtually collaborate with their sponsor on creating spreads using artwork, photography, poetry and prose submitted by FLVS students. During weekly virtual meetings, students work together to share ideas and give each other feedback. They make decisions about the magazine themes, covers and general layout. Submissions are then bound together to create the finished product.

Another program students are using to take the place of their current school options is The Learning Network, a teaching and learning blog with the New York Times, with an entire section dedicated to Fine Arts. This blog offers annual editorial, vocabulary, poetry and summer-reading contests open to anyone 13-19 years old. Students’ submissions are considered by a panel of Times journalists and educators, and winners have their work shared with thousands of Learning Network readers. These contests allow for students to express themselves emotionally and show that their work matters.

Students should not be deprived of arts activities just because there is not enough funding available for their school arts programs. While important for intrinsic values, the arts also promote important skills for academic and life success. Students and parents should be aware of all the potential art opportunities readily available, even outside of their schools, whether online or in their communities. Saving the arts will provide a powerful experiences that can’t be replaced and are fundamental in helping students learn they can make a difference in this world and prove that their work matters. 

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Cindy Knoblauch is a full-time instructor with FLVS and sponsors Virge: The Virtual Edge Literary Magazine, a semi-annual publication of collected works by FLVS students. Follow Florida Virtual School on Twitter, @FLVS.

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