By Scott Laska
It was awesome. There I stood with our team of Arts Educators with an incredible amount of joy and pride as our cast of 35 student performers soaked in their first standing ovation. The ovation wasn’t for a standard High School Musical, and the audience was not a paying audience of parents and grandparents. The audience was full of their peers; grades 7-12 in fact. The show was an original piece created by them to bring awareness within the school to the issue of bullying. It was full or creativity and originality, with brave students standing up in front of all of their peers and delivering personal reflections that were glimpses into their hearts. It was polished, entertaining, inspirational and effective, yet it would not have been possible without LEAP’s growing dedication to maintaining the arts as a part of their student’s education.
If you have ever been lucky enough to have your ear bent by a proponent of arts education, then you have heard all of the evidence. You have heard that there are countless studies that identify links between participation in the arts to better academic achievement, increased discipline, a cleaner attendance record and an overall increase in school engagement. You’ve also heard that the arts are integral in rounding out a complete education. Not just to teach children that questions can have more than one answer, or that thinking objectively is okay, but to teach them the most vital of skills like creativity, collaboration and acceptance.
At LEAP Academy, we are putting all of those facts into action. After receiving an ARTer Charter Grant, which is funded by the incredible Dodge Foundation we have an added level of support. We are lucky enough to have a team of up to ten arts educators that are committed to making sure that our students are exposed to as much of the arts as possible. Lifelong artists and educators are given the opportunity to teach their art discipline to LEAP’s students and to push them students every day to think creatively. And as educators, we’ve witnessed firsthand the positive impact arts education has on our students. A standing ovation in a high school arts program is a great thing to see. But what makes the LEAP’s standing ovation so much more powerful is the demonstration of students—on both sides of the curtain—who are engaged, introspective, and confident to address serious issues with maturity, understanding, and openness.
This is what charter schools do: Create spaces of learning outside the traditional classroom. This is the power behind arts education. This is the result of people who wake up every day and support creativity and innovation in schools. I’m so grateful to be able to be a part of it every day.
For video of the performance, click here.
Scott Laska is the Director of Visual and Performing Arts at LEAP Academy University Charter School in Camden, NJ as well as the founder and Artistic Director of the Haddonfield Theater Arts Center in Haddonfield, NJ