Public Affairs

It Starts With Art

Aug. 16, 2012
By Elizabeth Chapin

Local educators and Cal State Fullerton faculty members participate in a visual art workshop to learn how to incorporate visual arts into K-12 curriculum.
Local educators and Cal State Fullerton faculty members participate in a visual art workshop to learn how to incorporate visual arts into K-12 curriculum.

State budget cuts have jeopardized arts education in California's K-12 schools. As an example, the number of students enrolled in music programs has been cut in half over the past decade, according to the California Department of Education. Art is critical to the communication, problem-solving and motor skill development in young children. When kids continue the arts into middle and high school, studies show their academic achievement improves in all areas, including math and science.

The CSU is training future teachers to incorporate the arts into the classroom, preparing students for the expectations of the 21st Century workforce, which includes the ability to innovate, communicate and collaborate. Even as budgets are cut, many communities are finding ways to keep art in school curriculums, and partnering with their local CSU to provide volunteers, donations and grants to help keep arts in schools. Of of those programs, the SchoolsFirst Center for Creativity and Critical Thinking in Schools, is based at CSU Fullerton's College of Education.

“When K-12 budgets are cut, visual art, music, theater and dance are often the first thing to go,” said Teresa Crawford, the program’s director. “The focus on standardized testing has taken away from important arts enrichment.”

The school helps train current and future teachers to become competent in the arts. Volunteers, faculty and CSUF education students help them integrate art into lesson plans for other subjects. Crawford says that many regular classroom teachers do not have the time to teach the arts or are not trained in the subjects.

“We build a relationship with the teachers in the community,” Crawford said, “working with them for a year to integrate the curriculum, track their progress, and get feedback.”

Crawford says the feedback has shown that when kids start with art, their level of achievement is higher.

“For example, when a second-grader draws a picture of a plant, he or she becomes more interested and willing to learn about plants,” Crawford said. “Referring to a finished piece of artwork helps the child in a new and meaningful way, because he or she just put in the time and effort to create something that is their own.”

The whole idea that art integration increases competency in a variety of subjects, including science and mathematics, is gaining momentum. CSUF’s College of Education has even decided to start an arts-rich block, or cohort, of students. That particular group of students focuses more on integrating arts into curriculum that is used when they are placed in the classroom as teaching assistants.

The new approaches to teaching fundamental subjects are helping to keep California innovative. To see other ways the center and CSUF are infusing arts, science and technology in the classroom, visit