A couple of years ago, my wife and I vacationed in the Azores Islands, and I was impressed and amazed to discover that every child learned to play a musical instrument in school.
On an island of 25,000 people, a city parade contained several student and adult marching bands. It was very clear that music was a priority in these small hamlets, and it was expected the school system provide students with the opportunity to play music.
The research is clear. The study of the arts increases performance in expressive and cognitive abilities for all students.
Research also shows that artistic expression develops essential thinking tools, such as pattern recognition and development, mental representation of what is observed or imagined and the ability to move from abstraction to complex expression, among others.
A study of high school student achievement showed students enrolled in art classes demonstrated higher math, verbal and, or composite SAT scores than students who did not take art classes.
The greatest improvement with SAT scores occurred with students who had taken four or more years of art classes.
In this age of school accountability and testing, schools and classrooms are rated according to how students achieve on standardized tests. Yet, those tests never mention a treble clef or a two-point perspective.
When tests measure reading, math and social studies, that is what is taught and that is where resources must be allocated, so cuts in other areas are a sad but understandable fact of life.
It is far more difficult to understand a political arena that makes that choice necessary in the first place. It is shortsighted and counterproductive. The arts are essential elements of a complete education, and they often provide the very skills and motivation required for school success.
Additionally, school districts in Merced County, with shrinking budgets, have struggled to maintain visual and performing arts programs. I applaud those school districts that have maintained their arts programs like band and drama.
The Weaver School District students recently performed "The Little Mermaid" and 5,000 people attended the performances at the Merced Theatre.
Nearly 100 county students also performed the classic tale "The Wizard of Oz" at Golden Valley High School to about 1,500 people through four different showings.
These students have been preparing six hours a day, four days a week, for six weeks.
They have been involved with set design, costumes, ticket sales, and all aspects of a live performance. While their performances of this play brought families, friends and the community joy and entertainment, these students are expanding their skills, thought processes and their overall education.
Gomes is Merced County superintendent of schools.