In elementary school art rooms, February is the month that most inspires students to take art to heart. From avant-garde Valentines to Native American weavings, students are immersed in the visual arts. On stage, concerts have featured young musicians, their cellos, trumpets, flutes and voices warming cold winter nights.
But with elementary classrooms already at capacity, Livingston Public Schools may be forced to refashion the art and music spaces where the arts are taught into traditional classrooms to accommodate extra students over the next five to seven years.
That’s among the pressing concerns behind School Vote March 12, a referendum to decide new school construction. The vote follows a yearlong study by school leaders who concluded an emergent need to increase elementary capacity.
If approved, the referendum would allow Livingston Public Schools to create 14 new elementary classrooms, build three media centers, and bring 100 percent ADA compliance at the high school.
In Grades K-2, 34 percent – 1/3 – of all classrooms right now are at or above guidelines set by the state of New Jersey. Already, the rooms dedicated for art and music serve a variety of shared uses with world language and small-group English as a Second Language instruction.
“Having just left an elementary school as a parent there, it seemed like we had plenty of space,” said Pamela Chirls, newly elected to the Livingston Board of Education. “But going on the tours of all of the buildings made a real difference for me,” she said at a recent BOE meeting.
“What I discovered, really surprised me,” Chirls said. “At each of the six elementary school buildings, every classroom space is being used and every multi-purpose space is being used.”
Currently, 5,812 students attend Livingston Public Schools. The elementary enrollment is expected to increase over the next five to seven years as result of four new proposed housing developments. School leaders anticipate up to 250 students when they open. And every year, the school Registrar sees more families moving into Livingston when their children are about to enter Kindergarten.
The No. 1 reason they choose Livingston is the outstanding public schools, parents have said publicly at school board meetings and in the letters to the editor section of The West Essex Tribune. They maintain it’s Livingston’s competitive advantage over other similar places.
But class sizes are inching higher and encroaching on the space dedicated in the elementary schools for music and art where children come for instruction.
“During the worse times, we have no other choice but to put elementary art or music on a cart to capture a classroom. The teacher literally gets an AV cart that you used to put an overhead projector on, and they stack a bunch of stuff, and they roll from classroom to classroom,” said Dr. Brad Draeger, Superintendent of Livingston Public Schools. “Your teacher is a nomad rolling from room to room to room,” he said.
“What is best in elementary education is to have dedicated art rooms, music rooms, where children come for instruction. In music, instruments, drums and guitars, are around the wall. The teacher has full access to sound equipment, to pianos, to autoharps, and students have space for movement activities,” Draeger said.
“The same thing in art. When you see any public education art room, it’s stacked to the ceiling with supplies. We might do charcoal today. We might do three-dimensional clay tomorrow. We might use a kiln. Art on a cart is mostly paper and pencil,“ he said. Dolly Mendes is among the arts educators concerned about maintaining dedicated rooms for art instruction. She’s been an art teacher in the Livingston Public Schools since 1989, this year at Collins and Harrison elementary schools.
“It creates an impact on classroom teachers who must now rearrange their rooms to accommodate the additional art projects. Clean up is always going to be a problem as well,” Mendes said. “The space in a regular classroom may not offer our special education students the amount of room or access to sinks and other specialized supplies we use to accommodate their best interests. The displays of rich historical artifacts will not be carted from room to room either. Thus limiting their exposure to art historical inspiration.”
Research has found that music and art education facilitates learning in other subjects and enhances skills that children inevitably use in other areas. But that could be diminished if art and music instruction is forced to carts.
“I am very hopeful that our school district will continue to uphold the value of Art Education as taught in a dedicated art room,” Mendes said. “It is the most effective way to fully teach the complete scope and sequence of our arts curriculums that enrich our students’ lives.”
Email your comments and questions to schoolvoteMarch12@livingston.org.
Find answers to frequently asked questions on the District’s website at School Vote March 12 @ www.livingston.org
Watch our School Vote March 12 Video to learn even more by clicking here.