A view from Glen Hill: Arts education goes beyond the classroom

The notion of free education for all is one of America’s great traditions, and Connecticut was among the first states to require it. Our state recognized education as one of the most valuable investments government can make in lifting the performance bar of its people. From that investment has flowed the outpouring of invention, creativity, and productivity that has marked America’s last century and a half.

We in Wilton rightly pride ourselves on the quality of public education we provide, and indeed many have moved here with that very fact foremost in mind. Here in Wilton we can give our children a public education of a quality that is among the best in the land. Rankings and awards place Wilton not only at the top statewide but also ranked nationally — as confirmed by college admissions and other indicators of the reality as well as the perception of our schools’ excellence. These results show what a community determined to achieve academic excellence can accomplish.

Excellence has many different dimensions, and a very significant one is in the arts. The effect of that excellence is seen in the results that Wilton schools’ programs achieve. They do so with a small but beautifully coordinated cadre of arts educators of great talent in professional performance as well as in education. Those educators work well together and like and support each other both within their own schools and across all of our schools, from Miller-Driscoll to Cider Mill to Middlebrook to Wilton High School. Indeed, part of what our arts educators have achieved so well flows directly from a determined and consistent program of moving advanced education in the arts into ever lower grades.  Having attended performances at a variety of grade levels in our schools for a quarter of a century now, I can confirm from first-hand observation that this program works and that it allows our students to express themselves in really stunning fashion as they reach higher grade levels.

Wilton has produced during that time a student who is now a nationally recognized composer and professor of music (and one of whose compositions was performed by our high school orchestra under his baton in his senior year here).  But it has also produced many others who gained great skills and also great confidence on stage in everything from outstanding performance on their musical instruments and vocally, to Broadway-quality performances in theater productions, to production of works of art that have won high awards. They learned to overcome performance anxieties, to memorize huge amounts of dialogue, to create artwork of subtlety and insight, to express themselves forcefully and professionally, to know what it is to excel.

For those who need to be reassured that these skill-sets offer “something more” than art for its own sake, their impact is seen in board rooms and business presentations, in a vision for how to run enterprises and create new ideas of all sorts, and in confidence that they can excel at challenging work and work cooperatively with others (often, many others) in orchestras, bands, vocal groups, and theater productions.

The arts additionally serve as a great stress-reliever for our kids in a world which is complex, demanding and filled with stimuli that we know are neither life-enhancing nor life-fulfilling. The arts allow a channeling of youthful energy in ways that uplift even as they engage and educate. When I talk with  children and youth in church school, confirmation, and youth groups where I intersect with them, I’m always impressed with hearing how the arts provide them with focus and enrichment. They motivate them very positively at ages when it is all too easy to feel jaded, disillusioned, and overwhelmed. So, in addition to crediting our school arts programs for all they do to develop specific skills associated with performance mastery, teamwork, and technical knowledge, we should also credit them for giving our kids the opportunity for tremendously positive engagement.

Wilton rightly prides itself on its commitment to arts education and its success in providing it, with the Clune Center as one very tangible and remarkable statement of the high value we place on the arts. We do so as a town because we have seen for ourselves the fruits of the arts as part of our core curriculum. We understand how vital those fruits are to our children’s education in an holistic way that teaches a wide range of skills with applicability throughout their professional lives while enriching their personal lives as well.

Mr. Hudspeth lives on Glen Hill Road.