A Rogers Elementary School student works on a painting. Photo courtesy of SAISD.
A Rogers Elementary School student works on a painting. Photo courtesy of SAISD.

My heart and soul always have been in fine arts and public schools.

The fine arts promote the development of creativity like no other subject, and the importance of creativity, particularly in our new global economy, cannot be overestimated. Through fine arts, San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) students take concepts, ideas and materials, and on a daily basis, make “something out of nothing.”

Ricky Flores, an assistant principal at Burbank High School directs students during a district-wide band camp in Summer 2013. Photo courtesy of SAISD.
Ricky Flores, an assistant principal at Burbank High School directs students during a district-wide band camp in Summer 2013. Photo courtesy of SAISD.

Through their chosen artistic medium, they create and test ideas, develop varieties of new combinations and breathe new life into old ones. They learn to approach things from new perspectives, to not give up, to develop and use their skills and to think in new ways.  Steve Jobs’ famous concept, “Think Differently” encapsulates this very work format.

These artistic opportunities are being offered at public schools throughout Bexar County, where students are involved in a wide variety of fine arts programs through which they nurture and develop their skills and exercise their creative minds.

The nature of the public schools gives them a distinct advantage. With few exceptions they have larger, more diverse student populations, are more likely to offer a full array of fine arts programs at every level, have higher levels of funding and have full-size and up-to-date rehearsal spaces, studios, galleries and theaters.

In these spaces, art, theater, dance, and music students are rounding out their educations while strengthening skills vital to their future success – one drawing at a time, one monologue at a time, one motion at a time, one note at a time.

Alongside creative thought, team-building is another important focus of our work with students. They bring ideas to the table, blending and synthesizing and creating a work that is greater than the sum of the parts. And this isn’t only for music, theater and dance. SAISD art students have produced many brilliant projects in groups, too. If you need proof, look at the murals at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.

Every day, our students learn lessons on self-discipline and taking individual responsibility, on putting aside personal differences and working together as a team to accomplish both short and long term goals and objectives. This builds the self-confidence they need to become the leaders of tomorrow.

In his New York Times best-selling book “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future,” author Daniel Pink makes the case that these are the most important qualities needed for success in the 21st-century workforce. Pink states, “The wealth of nations and the well-being of individuals now depend on having artists in the room. In a world enriched by abundance but disrupted by the automation and outsourcing of white-collar work, everyone, regardless of profession, must cultivate an artistic sensibility. We may not all be Dali or Degas. But today we must all be designers.”

He also writes: “Symphonic thinking is a signature ability of composers and conductors, whose jobs involve corralling a diverse group of notes, instruments, and performers and producing a unified and pleasing sound…this aptitude is the ability to put together the pieces. It is the capacity to synthesize rather than to analyze; to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields; to detect broad patterns rather than to deliver specific answers; and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair.”

Edison High School theater students rehearse for a play. Photo courtesy of SAISD.
Edison High School theater students rehearse for a play. Photo courtesy of SAISD.

In my opinion, for the arts, there is simply no environment as inherently stimulating as our public schools, where students from every possible race, color, creed, socioeconomic background and political persuasion come together to share ideas and work together to achieve common goals. This is powerful.

The world has become a global community, and the public schools are the place where the society of the future learns to work together. Whether their careers will be in business, law, medicine, education or the political arena, students must learn to associate, communicate and negotiate with colleagues who come from vastly different backgrounds. This is critically important training for the future, and it happens every day right here in Bexar County public schools.

*Featured/top image: A Rogers Elementary School student works on a painting. Photo courtesy of SAISD.

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John May

John May is executive director for Fine Arts for the San Antonio Independent School District. He holds a doctorate in music education from the University of Houston.