I am saddened and disappointed to hear the Utah State Board of Education has eliminated physical education, health, the arts and college and career readiness as core requirements in Utah middle schools.
I am especially alarmed that they would remove health. As an educator, I can tell you, children need a safe, objective environment in which they can learn about nutrition, healthy relationships, setting goals, identify strategies that enhance mental and emotional health, manage peer pressure, recognize the importance of a healthy body image and develop appropriate weight management behaviors, examine the dangers of inappropriate use of current technology, and identify and respond appropriately to harassment and violent behaviors (These are just some of the standards and objectives in the health curriculum).
With Utah’s staggering teen suicide rate, eliminating the requirement for all middle school students to take a class that teaches coping skills and suicide prevention is absolutely irresponsible.
Eliminating the requirement for all students to take a fine arts class is also irresponsible. Students must experience art. Regardless of whether that class is painting, theater, dance, band or choir, students should have the opportunity to find a way to express themselves. Fine arts classes support and enrich children’s education in their core classes. Theater classes enable children to enter the stories they study in literature. It has been revealed in educational research that theater education increases empathy in students of all ages. If educators are concerned about bullying, theater classes should be protected and encouraged. In theater classes students can also develop public speaking skills and build confidence.
In music classes children investigate math concepts such as fractions as they alternate between a waltz and a tango rhythm. Studies have repeatedly demonstrated musical training increases brain volume and connectivity.
Dance enables children to kinesthetically explore and connect with countless core curriculum themes. I have taught second-graders the water cycle and third-graders about volcanoes through dance. Mirroring and flocking exercises teach relationship and interpersonal skills. Cross lateral movements help the brain build pathways in the brain from one hemisphere to the other.
If the Utah Board of Education wishes to re-evaluate core requirements, then they need to take the time to re-evaluate all core requirements. This vote was made hastily before the policy had been fully evaluated and vetted. Our children’s education, development, and overall well being are at stake.
If funding is the reason many districts wish to eliminate these essential education requirements, then we need to re-evaluate the way we fund education in Utah. I know we are a red state that prefers small government, but we are a red state that claims to value families and children above all else.
If this is true, we need to change the way we view education and the way we fund programs of value. Stripping our children’s education of essential core curriculum is not an option I feel comfortable with, and neither should you.
Kat Martinez is a mother of three, small business owner, child care provider and activist.