Arts attune students to creative lives


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Once again a state budget crisis has prompted communities and school districts throughout Oregon to examine programs and make difficult choices, and once again art and music programs will be downsized or eliminated.

However, art and music, far from being frills, stand at the center of who we are as a culture and a community, and how we support or demean arts education strongly reflects what we value.

I have been teaching for nearly 25 years and know from personal experience how important, enriching and profoundly satisfying music and the arts are to students and to their audiences. I have seen students of all ages make a journey of self-discovery, grow in confidence, poise, leadership, and maturity, all due to their experiences in music and the arts. Setting aside this anecdotal evidence, I urge you to consider the following:

Music and the arts are positive, uplifting forces that allow students to process and cope with the vastly negative events of a troubled world.

Music is cathartic. The healing aftermath of Sept. 11 included musical tributes and memorials that allowed a sharing of grief and a feeling of solidarity. Wherever there is shared joy or sadness there will be music and art; and in a society that is increasing enamored of technology, music and art represent the best of our humanity.

For students, as well as for our culture, music and the arts help us forge an identity that is both unique and connected to an historical lineage. One of the most memorable moments I've had as a teacher was performing with students in the cloisters of Iona, Scotland, where music had been performed for over a thousand years in just the same way.

Students could feel a profound sense of connection not only with each other, but the countless generations of musicians before them. In that moment, they experienced a level of historical and cultural education that would impact them for years to come.

Music and art education help students develop creativity, mental discipline, and divergent thinking. Music stimulates the brain in unique ways and the study of music has been correlated with increased SAT scores and enhanced verbal skills.

Music and the arts are lifelong activities that can be enjoyed recreationally, practiced professionally, and improved continuously.

Make no mistake, to realize its full potential arts education must be approached with high standards, a rigorous curriculum, and strong school and community support. The Oregon Education Reform Act placed music and arts education as a core subject alongside English, Math, Science, and Social Studies and all students must demonstrate competency in the arts in order to obtain a Certificate of Initial Mastery. How that competency is acquired and measured is an opportunity and a challenge each district must meet.

Music and arts education -- besides being legal requirements -- are mentally and emotionally enhancing, affirming, stimulating, creative, and expressive for participants and their audiences.

These are values that I hope our community will continue to recognize, nurture and support no matter what the challenge.


Mark Steighner is choral and instrumental music teacher at Hood River Valley High School. He leads the HRVHS chamber singers to Ireland in late March for its third musical tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland in the past five years.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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