Two-thirds of public school teachers believe that the arts are getting crowded out of the school day, according to an arts education study from Americans for the Arts.
This continues, despite convincing research pointing to arts education as an important tool in creative and mental development beginning at a young age.
Even with a focus on testing, as today's schools often place much of their emphasis, the arts have shown to help students in all subject areas, confirming the arts are not mutually exclusive from science and math.
Students with an education rich in the arts have historically earned higher grade point averages and scored higher on the SAT than students without arts education. The more years of arts students take, the higher their SAT scores on average, the Americans for the Arts study found.
Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance (SAACA) has been working to infuse arts education in the community by delivering a practical and engaging program. Musical Gold in the Morning has expanded to additional schools this year and now includes a live performance series from the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra.
Reaching elementary school children in countries around the world and in 44 states in the U.S., the musical listening program has been presented in 15 Southern Arizona schools since 2007.
What began as a way to bring students in touch with classical music through daily listening of recorded bits of composition in an easy to digest format, has grown to an imperative music course, sometimes the only one existing in the school, paired with live performances.
"And we've only just begun," said Kate Marquez, SAACA executive director.
Although, only in the planning stages, SAACA hopes to help fill the arts education gaps for schools across Southern Arizona, beginning with the ones that need it most, expanding the program into a comprehensive visual, literary, musical and performing arts education program.
"We are very excited about opening these conversations with school districts and, so far, have had a tremendously positive response," Marquez said. "The initiative will take time to implement, but we feel a sense of urgency to play a stronger role in arts education advocacy and found the path that will lead us there."
A closer look - Banks Elementary
"We noticed from the first performance that kids seem to really be engaged and recognize the compositions being played," said Emily Walls, literacy coach for Lauren Nobles Banks Elementary School, 3200 S. Lead Flower Ave.
They just seem to pay attention to the performances a little more than in the past when live performers came in, she said, as the daily listening program preps students for what they may hear live in concert.
"I think they're really getting an ear for appreciating music and not just sitting there bored," she added. "They're really interested in it."
The Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra (SASO) has partnered with SAACA to develop the program - a natural collaboration between two organizations with similar goals to raise awareness for music.
"Part of our mission is to do this sort of outreach," said Tim Secomb, violinist and SASO vice president, "and through this program, we can reach a large number of students at one time.
"A very important aspect of adding the performances is to see how music is made," he said, "as some students don't have a music class in school or even know what certain instruments look like.
"It gives a much stronger image of what goes into making music," he explained about the value of watching the music being played live. "This really adds to the understanding of what classical music is all about.
"Even if a small number of students became very involved on a long-term basis, that is extremely valuable," Secomb said. "The biggest reward for us is to see how enthusiastic they are."
The daily recorded listening component also helps teachers as students practice focusing each day.
"I can definitely say that just having them start out on a calm front in the beginning of the day it allows them to be centered," Banks said, "and I like to think it gets them off on the right foot and ready to learn."
"We ask questions like 'what are you picturing when you here this music?'," she explained. "We really have fun with it."
Musical Gold in the Morning