Art and music equally important as rigorous academics in Tuba City schools

Kara Allen, a fifth grade student at Tuba City Primary shows her guitar prowess with a solo electric guitar performance in the cafeteria. Rosanda Suetopka/NHO

Kara Allen, a fifth grade student at Tuba City Primary shows her guitar prowess with a solo electric guitar performance in the cafeteria. Rosanda Suetopka/NHO

TUBA CITY, Ariz. - In recent years, curricula in the United States and on American Indian reservations throughout Indian country has shifted more toward common core subjects like math and reading. But what about the arts?

Some parents and community members consider music, visual and performing arts a luxury subject.

But at Tuba City Unified School District in the remote northern Navajo area of Arizona, district officials consider art and music experience a necessary building block of education and child development along with other daily academic programs.

The district works toward creating a learning environment that is not just focused on math, science and reading.

District officials recognize that teaching students to create and appreciate visual aesthetics is equally as important to provide successful social and brain development.

Both national and state studies have shown that creative arts, music and dance performance have major benefits for young students and help develop several areas of a child's brain function resulting in successful whole child learning.

One of these benefits is fine motor skill development.

Holding a paintbrush or using crayons or colored pencils are essential skills to help develop fine motor skills. Even using a pair of scissors to cut simple shapes of paper is a really good tool for young hands.

Decision making is also a large part of art enhancement. Art design and execution strengthens problem solving and critical thinking, involving math and measurement.

Visual learning is also boosted because working with art supplies like clay or even small pieces of tile or beads heighten visual spatial skills and problem solving. Graphic and three-dimensional appreciation is also better understood by students who work with these kind of art supplies.

Cultural awareness for both main stream culture and their own tribal culture is enhanced by varied art forms as well. Comparing and understanding other cultures through art and music or dance helps a student to appreciate and respect other cultures and they can even compare how there are sometimes universal parallels in art design or function.

What is the final outcome for art and music programs like the ones offered in Tuba City? Improved academic performance.

According to a report from Americans for Art, young students from as early as three years of age who engage regularly in the arts (three hours a day for at least three days a week) for a full school year, are more likely to also be recognized for academic achievement than students who are not able to have art or music appreciation classes.

Recently at Tuba City Primary School, a full day performance presentation to parents, grandparents and community members titled "Winter Wonderland" gave kindergarten through second grade students in the morning and grade levels three through five students in the afternoon a chance to show off their music, song and dance performance abilities.

Dr. Justin Roberson, principal at Tuba City Primary School, credits his staff for their daily commitment to their students, giving the students the best possible environment to shine in their creative accomplishments.

The program was peppered with music performances, duet and trio song performances, ukulele playing, electric guitar, holiday songs sung in both Navajo and English and contemporary dance.

The program was warmly received by the attending community audience.

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