The school board unanimously supports changing the NMS art course

Posted: April 19, 2023, 8:00 am

Newtown Visual and Performing Arts Director Michelle Hiskawicz accompanied Newtown Middle School art teachers Lee Ann Hildebrand and Christine Ladue to present proposed changes to the NMS arts curriculum at the April 4 Board of Education meeting.

Hildebrand explained that the plan is to phase out the art enrichment program — and offer two-dimensional painting and drawing, as well as three-dimensional sculpture and mixed media art courses for eighth-graders. The Art Enrichment Program is a course option that students can apply to in addition to the standard art course.

Hildebrand said a course called “Practical Arts” is something teachers “would like to explore in the future” but is not in the works for the 2023-24 school year. She later said it would potentially be available in three up to five years and will include elements such as graphic design and fashion.

She added that the middle school offers a variety of opportunities for students to “get involved in the arts,” such as through the recently established National Youth Honor Society for Art and Performing Arts.

According to Hildebrand, the art department at NMS has seen a decrease in interest in students applying to the art enrichment program, despite advertising the courses, talking to students and providing resources.

The presenters showed some data, noting an average drop of 5.8 applicants per year, a decrease of 3.4 students enrolled per year and an overall average of about 6.3 percent of students in the arts enrichment program per year.

“This resulted in fewer middle school courses available, which created some scheduling issues,” Hildebrand said.

Hildebrand said the proposal would not add a new curriculum for the school, but is a modification to help reduce the budgetary implications of changing course.

She said that with pandemic learning loss, this change will allow arts teachers to meet students “where they are,” “reach a larger audience” and be vertically aligned with high school course preparation.

Currently, Hildebrand explained, Reed Middle School students apply through an extensive arts enrichment application process to be accepted into the program in seventh grade. Accepted students have the option of continuing into eighth grade or returning to a general arts course.

Seventh graders may also apply to the enrichment program if they were not initially accepted.

With the change, seventh graders will choose between general art, 2D or 3D studio art for eighth grade with no application requirements, according to Hildebrand.

“It’s just going to be based on their interests and passions,” Hildebrand said.

It was reported that 437 seventh- and eighth-grade students were surveyed by the art teachers, who concluded that about half of the NMS students would be interested in the new course offerings.

Hildebrand reported that 48 percent indicated they would be interested in the 2D course, and 52 percent indicated they would be interested in the 3D course or the practical arts course. Additionally, 57 percent of students surveyed expressed interest in both courses.

“What we’re trying to do with these course offerings is [provide] opportunities for students to explore art through many different processes,” Ladue said, adding that the art department intends to allow students to foster a studio-like atmosphere, be independent in the classroom, take artistic risks, follow passions and be challenged on ideas.

“We want to build a family in the classroom where they won’t be afraid to engage with each other and grow with each other through the art-making process,” Ladue said.

A subsequent motion to approve the middle school art course change was passed unanimously by the Board of Education after a brief question and answer session.

Reporter Noelle Veillette can be reached at [email protected].

Director of Visual and Performing Arts Michelle Hiskawicz along with art teachers Christine Ladue and Lee Ann Hildebrand present their plan to phase out the Newtown Middle School Arts Enrichment Program. Also pictured are lion heads created by students in the current program on display at the opening of the art show on April 1 at the community center. — Bee Photos Veillette

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