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Much of the education focus in South Carolina and elsewhere is preparing students for the workforce. The emphasis is often on math and science as integral to the work world of the 21st century. Teaching particular skills is again a priority.

Though there is a need to teach so many things to students, there are only so many hours in the school day. We have consistently lamented the lack of knowledge among students (and adults) of history and civics, which should be prioritized. But there is an equally good case to be made that the arts are to be forgotten.

The S.C. Arts Commission and Palmetto State Arts Education partnered with internationally recognized analytics firm Gallup to participate in the annual Gallup Student Poll, which found the levels of engagement and hope among students in arts-rich South Carolina schools are higher than the national mean.

The poll measures student engagement, hope, entrepreneurial aspirations, and career and financial literacy. In South Carolina last year, Gallup surveyed 8,287 students at 30 arts-rich schools.

In each of the four indicators on the poll, the students in South Carolina’s arts-rich schools outperformed the national mean. The research also showed a direct correlation between a school’s length of time as arts-rich and an increase in student engagement and hope. According to Gallup data from 2016, engaged and hopeful students are more than twice as likely to report they get excellent grades and are twice less likely to report they missed a lot of school than “actively disengaged” peers.

And students surveyed in arts-rich schools with free/reduced lunch program participation of 75 percent or greater scored higher than both the state and national means.

“Seeing the results of the survey is exciting. It validates and supports the anecdotal evidence that we’ve all seen and experienced. And it’s even more exciting to see that the longer a school is engaged in the arts, the higher the hope and engagement is for its students,” said Eve Walling-Wohlford, executive director of PSAE.

Brown said schools are considered arts-rich when they are “committed to the arts at the cellular level.” She said both Arts in Basic Curriculum Project and Distinguished Arts Program schools are required to have an arts strategic plan and, in both, the arts “are simply part of the fabric of the school.” SCAC and PSAE conducted the Gallup Student poll in arts-rich schools throughout South Carolina at a mixture of ABC Project and DAP sites.

The items on the Gallup Student Poll where students from S.C. arts-rich schools scored the highest above the national mean are:

• The adults at my school care about me.

• I have at least one teacher who makes me feel excited about the future.

• I have a great future ahead of me.

• I know I will find a good job in the future.

• I will invent something that changes the world.

• I plan to start my own business.

Armed with results such as those from Gallup and a commitment to arts education, the ABC Project and the S.C. Arts Alliance have proposed amendments to S.C. education reform legislation that will ensure the arts are embraced and advanced in order to help students meet education standards.

S.C. Arts Commission Executive Director Ken May tell us why: “The arts are integral to a well-rounded education that allows students to achieve the knowledge, skills, and life and career characteristics outlined in the Profile of the South Carolina Graduate. From creativity to problem solving, perseverance to critical thinking, learning in and through the arts is proven to equip students with the skills necessary to be engaged citizens and productive workers.”

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