Trust fund offers help in vital area

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, November 28, 2006

School officials say they will review a new trust fund beforedeciding whether to apply for funding for art and musicclasses.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to apply for that, but we’llhave to review it,” said Brookhaven School District SuperintendentLea Barrett. “Sometimes with offers like that, there are stringsattached.”

The Airborne Teacher Trust Fund, a nonprofit charitablecorporation, designed the trust to help fund art and music programsin elementary and middle schools that are in jeopardy of being lostbecause of budgetary limitations.

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The Brookhaven School District, Lincoln County School Districtand the Mississippi School of the Arts are eligible for funding,according to a press release from the organization.

In Mississippi, art and music classes are required in secondaryeducation level, but not lower grades, Barrett said. Therefore,arts classes in the lower grades are among the first to come underclose scrutiny when funding gets tight.

The county district hosts a band at Loyd Star Attendance Centerfor grades five through 12 and an elementary music program on theother campuses, said Richelle Ratcliff, curriculum director for theLincoln County School District.

“I think that’s something we definitely need for our students,”Ratcliff said.

The Brookhaven School District maintains a music program forgrades three through 12 and an art program for grades five through12, Barrett said.

“It’s just something we’ve always tried to do because it doeshave an impact,” Barrett said.

Academic studies have repeatedly shown that participating in thearts can improve student achievement in all areas, she said. Italso has an impact on student retention and the dropout rate, whichhas recently received a lot of attention by the state Department ofEducation.

Sally Ogden, an art teacher at Lipsey Middle School, saidworking with the creative mind increases students’ cognitiveabilities.

It directly relates to abstract mathematics, such as algebra andgeometry, because art uses symmetry, proportions and geometricshapes to form impressions, she said.

Art classes in schools also assist in other academic areasthrough projects in literacy, social studies, history and science,Ogden said.

For example, she said, in a recent art project to draw and painttrees, students were exposed to biology because they had to explainwhy trees look different and change during the seasons.

The National Association for Music Education agrees. It recentlypublished a study showing that on the 2005 Scholastic Aptitude Testfor college entrance exams, students with course work or experiencein the arts scored an average of 56 points higher on the verbalexam and 39 points higher in math.

Art is also good for developing students socially, Ogden said,by allowing them some fun and a means of self-expression.

However, despite the acknowledgement of school administrators ofthe benefits of arts classes, budgeting constraints often causeschool districts to cut or eliminate art programs.

According to the Center for Education Policy, in 2006, 71percent of the nation’s 15,000 school districts reduced time spenton subjects such art, social studies and history since 2002.

“With budgets becoming tighter each year, schools are faced withthe difficult decision of having to cut vital programs. TheAirborne Teacher Trust Fund is meant to fill the gap and keep ouryouth engaged and inspired so they can live full and rewardinglives,” said Victoria Knight-McDowell, a former second-gradeteacher and the creator of Airborne Health Formula, the popularherbal cough and cold medicine.

The trust fund was started with an initial investment of$250,000, according to an Airborne press release. Grants rangingfrom $200 to $10,000 will be awarded to teachers to implementprograms during the 2006-2007 school year in 15 states. Additionalstates will be added quarterly until the program in availablenationwide.