Student Focus Group section: responses from the Seattle Arts Stakeholder Report (Copyright © 2012 by THE BERC GROUP LLC. All rights reserved)
Five student focus groups were conducted at four locations. Chief Sealth hosted two sessions, and Rainier Beach, NOVA, and Seattle World School hosted one. The Seattle World School focus group was held on a Saturday, and included students from multiple schools. Average attendance was approximately 15 students per session. Researchers estimate about 40 students actively contributed to discussions. Thus, the total number of respondents and concepts discussed during these focus groups was significantly smaller than the community assessment focus groups. Students represented 10 schools across the district, with the vast majority attending high school. Only four students identified themselves as middle school students. Students identified a very wide range of themes, with minimal individual theme frequency, and are thus difficult to quantify. This section highlights topics that were consistent throughout all focus groups (community and student) and additional themes and statements that warrant mention despite low frequency.
Student Focus Group Topic #1: Describe your Experiences with the Arts in Seattle Public Schools
Students were asked to “describe your experiences with the arts in Seattle Public
Schools.” Discussions yielded approximately 40 concepts from students. Students spoke primarily about access, exposure, disciplines offered, and arts education instruction. Some students have had positive experiences throughout their schooling at Seattle Public Schools. These students felt that the options provided were adequate and accessible and that instruction was “good.” One student said, “It was easy to get into classes. I thought it was kind of easy. Not really much to it. Instruction was pretty good. We were guided well.”
Overall, however, students described having increasingly limited exposure to arts education as they progressed through school. In elementary school, students reported having more art in their day, and it was integrated throughout the day. For example, “At Lowell, we did a rotating arts programs in elementary school – art twice a week, music twice the next week. We had really good advanced
visual arts. Music had a lot of variety. [Teachers] implemented art in classrooms like a map of the Nile out of dough.” According to students, the level of integration and exposure to arts education diminished in middle and high school. The number of offerings reduced, and students then had to choose one discipline over another. One student described his experience, “Elementary school- art is more accessible, however, sometimes limited. Middle School- no art, only band. High School- you really do have to choose between arts.”
At the high school level, some disciplines overshadow or replace other disciplines. Students reported the inequity within their schools. One student stated, “In high school, I’m the drum major of the marching band, but the marching band does not get funding. We’re second class to the jazz
band and orchestra. We just now got band uniforms. [It is] difficult that we do not have money.”
Lastly, students discussed arts education instruction. Most felt that good instruction was limited. Teachers were generalists, and in many cases, professional art instructors were absent. “In my elementary school, they made it so the classroom teacher has to teach art rather than have an expert teach art. Teachers do not have enough time in their schedule to spend enough time on it.” Other students asserted that their classes were repetitive and not contemporary or relevant to their lives.
“We are used to doing the same thing year after year. We make murals every year, the same projects.”
Student Focus Group Topic #2: Describe Your Wishes and Hopes for Arts Education in Seattle Public Schools in the Future
Students were asked to “describe your wishes and hopes for Arts Education in Seattle Public Schools in the future. As mentioned in the last section, students described their high school experience as arts limited. They did not have access to all disciplines, and they did not have time to take more arts classes. During discussions about their hopes for future arts education, they asserted that they want these areas improved, specifically, access to the disciplines they do not have
access to, more time to take interesting classes, and opportunities to advance. One student asserted, “I hope all students have access to the arts (all forms) at all grade levels;” while another hoped, “To be able to participate in advanced programs, despite age and grade.”
Some students would like opportunities to showcase their work. Currently, there are limited opportunities to present art work outside of the classroom or along the hallway walls. According to students, there is no energy put towards increasing the profile of arts or celebrating the students that do art. They believe art is undervalued overall, and the limited opportunities to present work
are indicative of school culture. A student shared, “There are always assemblies for the sports but not for arts. They will put stuff up, but there is not recognition that it’s there.” Another student said that there is, “Not enough hype about it. You never see students in the paper for winning art competitions.” To increase profile and engagement, one student thought, “It would be cool to have
more events or contests between schools. Publicize it and get people excited. Like sports events.”
Finally, three students asked why schools have Athletic Directors but not Art Directors.
Lastly, students want guidance for careers in arts. There are students who intend to pursue arts careers (animation, video games, fashion, music) but do not know the steps to take to achieve their goals. They do not believe their teachers are equipped to provide that guidance. One student said, “They don’t know what to do with art in the high school. They don’t know how to help students.
They don’t take it to the next level. They need to show how art can help them after school.” Another student believes schools need to, “Alert people about career choices in arts – ideal careers have been portrayed as scientific or math or doctoral.” Students don’t know how to get started. “I need help getting started in those systems. And I don’t know where to start to access those.” Another student would like, “Some opportunities for internships. I want to be a fashion designer,
but I don’t know how art classes help.”
Student Focus Group Topic #3: Identify the Ideal Education Experience for Students for Each Discipline (Dance, Music, Theatre, and Visual Arts)
Focus group participants were asked to “identify the ideal education experience for students for each discipline (Dance, Music, Theatre, and Visual Arts).” With little variation, students want the same thing regardless of which discipline was being discussed. Students want exposure and access to all four disciplines. The exposure they seek is early, broad, and guided by professional arts instructors. Students want early exposure to develop interest and a foundation in the discipline(s) they choose down the road. One student stated, “Exploration is a key element to a child’s development so kids realize what interest them most.” Another student said, “Getting exposed to it when you are younger so that you are not insecure about it when you are older. You need to build confidence.” Students want broad exposure within any given discipline, and they want the perspective of those doing it professionally. This can be accomplished by partnering with professional arts communities, by bringing in guest speakers, and going on field trips. One student wants exposure to, “More professional artists to get their insight. [Schools should] develop partnerships to get more hands-on knowledge from the pros.” Another student sees opportunity in,
“Outsourcing arts to local community organizations. And that will perpetuate the creative element. NOVA is too small to pump money into a photo program. So if you can work with outside places to do so, it would be really awesome. Organizations are more than happy to work with students; you just need a liaison to get connected.”
Students believe that quality teachers are essential, and many agreed this should be a full time certified arts instructor. A student shared, “Good teachers are the foundation of everything. Teachers who want to be teaching arts.” Students mentioned that instruction coverage was thin at best. “Being a high school (NOVA) that does not have access to facilities. We have no instructor. One drama teacher in place cannot often do the technical and the directing. These are two different jobs.” Another student said, “We need more music teachers, and we need teachers that know how to sing.”
As discussed earlier, students want more opportunities to showcase their work. The opportunity to present work can increase engagement and rigor, can raise awareness, and help weave art into a school’s culture. One student believes, “There should be art shows at your school that showcases all the arts classes. A [art] night would be really cool.” Students believe seeing and celebrating work
could inspire more kids to pursue arts. “I would really like to see an emphasis on how art helps people. I volunteer for Art with Heart. We make art therapy books. Kids don’t understand the importance of art and how much you can get out of doing it.”
Student Focus Group Topic #4: What Do You Perceive as the Greatest Barriers Currently Facing Seattle Public Schools in Creating a Comprehensive K – 12 Arts Plan?
Students were asked “What do you perceive as the greatest barriers currently facing Seattle Public Schools in creating a Comprehensive K – 12 Arts Plan?” Discussions on this topic centered on funding/resources and the lack of priority of arts education. One student’s comment captured these concerns. “[The barriers are] funding for supplies, teachers who are actually interested and educated in art, ability to actually take classes, standardized testing pushing
non-testing curriculum to the side (arts, history).”
Many students complained that arts education is not prioritized. There is often not enough hours in the school day to accommodate arts classes. These students would like to see more zero and seventh hour time slots so they can fit it all in. A student shared, “It’s difficult to fit into my schedule. We have a lot of core classes that we have to do, and there are classes that I would like to take but I don’t have time.” Lack of funding, resources, and teacher support, according to students,
is further evidence that arts education is undervalued. One student said, “My teacher recycles everything, and she pays for supplies out of her own pocket. You don’t get a great salary as an art teacher in the first place.” Another student commented, “I want more funding for supplies. I bring in my own supplies from my house.”
Lastly, students recognize that schools focus more heavily on subject areas that are within reach of standardized testing. According to a few students, a test-centric philosophy marginalizes the role arts plays in schools and narrows course content. “Testing issues are a barrier. Classes end up teaching only what’s on the test.” Another student asserted, “There’s so much pressure when there
comes to test and people lose it. Students should do the work and have their work represent it throughout the class.”
Student Focus Group Topic #5: What Do You Think should be the Characteristics of a Seattle Public School Student Upon Graduation from High School?
Students were asked what they “think should be the characteristics of a Seattle Public School student upon graduation from high school.” Similar to the community focus group responses, answers to this question were brief, often a phrase or just a word.
Self-motivation and the desire to pursue personal goals were the characteristics that were discussed most frequently. Students want to leave high school motivated to pursue their passions and career goals. Many students hope they will emerge from high school college-ready in the hopes that they will find career opportunities in the arts. One students asserted, “[I want to be] able to get into a
good college, have a good art portfolio, experience in selling plays, writing, and art stuff. [I want to be] able to have a job in arts.”
Some students want to be well educated, “prepared,” self-sufficient, and able to live independently. For one student, emerging from high school well-educated is the foundation for future success. “[Students should be] well educated. You might be confident and independent, but you need to feel that you learned something and that they have taught you something.” Another respondent said that students should, “Be prepared, have worldly knowledge, be able to take care of yourself, know who you are and what you want to be. There’s always room for change and growth.” Additionally, “They should have the skills and confidence to move in a direction they are comfortable with, what they do, and who they are doing it with.” Another student thought students should be, “Innovative, [able to] think on their feet. Critical thinking skills, be confident even when in hot water. Think their ways through problems.”