Bullying is never okay, but how do you teach that lesson to young students in a way that sticks?
For first-graders at Codwell Elementary, the answer came in the form of a musical puppet show that conveyed the importance of kindness and compassion.
And according to their teacher, Shelea Bennett, the show made a lasting impression.
“You felt like you were in that story,” she said. “By the end of the story they were able to answer why bullying wasn’t good, and why you shouldn’t act this way.”
The puppet show is just one example of how expanding arts education in Houston elementary and middle schools is making a difference. A new study released by the Houston Education Research Consortium shows that the initiative is helping students in multiple ways, from boosting compassion for classmates to improving writing test scores and lowering discipline rates. And this isn’t the first study to show that arts education offers measurable benefits.
The study looked at elementary and middle schools in Houston that expressed interest in participating in the Arts Access Initiative, which encouraged schools to provide exposure to theater, dance, music, and visual arts through on-campus performances, field trips, artists in residence, and other programs outside of school hours.
The researchers randomly assigned some schools to participate and compared them to a control group. The results were encouraging, with positive effects on writing test scores, discipline, and compassion, all at a fairly low cost to schools.
But the benefits of arts education go beyond academic success. They also offer social and emotional benefits, which are particularly important for low-income students of color who may not have access to cultural experiences outside of school.
And as cities consider expanding their own arts education initiatives, the Houston study offers important insights into what works and what doesn’t.
So let’s continue to prioritize arts education in our schools, not just for the sake of academic success, but for the sake of creating a more compassionate and connected society.