It appears by recent activities and discussion that both the community and the Steamboat Springs School District are interested in exploring ideas to enhance the arts experience for students in Steamboat. I thought I would devote this commentary to offering a third perspective - as the campus dean of Colorado Mountain College and one who helped write the current music standards for the Colorado public schools during the 1990s.
I was honored to have been selected by the Colorado Department of Education as one of two music professors from Colorado's four-year colleges and universities to work with some of the best public school music teachers in Colorado. The representation of this Music Standards Task Force was comprised of professional music educators representing choir, band, orchestra and elementary general music programs from both rural and urban school systems in Colorado. A number of meetings throughout this multi-year process involved joint sessions with the visual art, theater and dance task forces to ensure all the standards for the arts in our public schools were in alignment and consistent.
Although the arts standards speak to minimum skills and abilities that all children should know and be able to do as they matriculate through the Colorado school systems, there also was sensitive consideration given to the diversity of funding and resources throughout our Colorado schools, with particular consideration given to those smaller school systems that don't have the same resources as the urban school districts. For example, those of us on the task force knew that not every school in Colorado would be able to have an orchestra. The standards were written so that developing fundamental musical and art skills and knowledge and understanding about how to think in the aesthetic realm of the arts, could be achieved through a variety of means and media. The overriding consideration was that Colorado's children would be able to have sequential and consistent opportunities to interact with the arts and learn the unique realm of intellectual functioning that the arts provide throughout their K-12 experience. Of equal importance was that schools regardless of the size and funding sources needed to have music and art education professionals delivering the curriculum in whatever format and by whatever means were available.
With the standards as the backdrop for ensuring a quality educational experience in the arts for students in our public school systems, there is another option that can help provide the optimum educational opportunity. And that option is to combine resources in a partnership with institutions of higher education.
There currently is a trend in various pockets around the country in which collaborative partnerships between the public school districts and the local colleges and/or universities are established to make a seamless sequence in a K-16 curriculum - and ultimately enhance the educational experience for students. The seeds for this type of collaboration have already been planted in our own communities through a career-technical-education task force involving the two community colleges and four public school districts in Northwest Colorado. This type of collaboration doesn't need to be limited to vocational programs.
We are fortunate to have some of our resident professional musicians offer to help students on a volunteer basis. This is both a generous and meritorious gesture of cooperation and goodwill. We also have the Post Secondary Education Opportunity program (PSEO) available through CMC in which high school juniors and seniors can get dual credit (high school and college). With the resources we have available in our community and the collective will to improve arts education for our students, challenges can be turned into opportunities. CMC stands ready to work with both the community and the school district in addressing the performing and visual arts needs.
Kerry Hart is dean of the Colorado Mountain College Alpine Campus in Steamboat Springs. His education commentaries appear in the Steamboat Today.