Talk of eliminating PAHS art position causes a stir at school board

PUNXSUTAWNEY — As the saying goes, "Art for art's sake", which proved to have a following at Tuesday's Punxsutawney Area School Board meeting, as a large crowd of art teachers, art students and parents spoke to the board regarding the elimination of an art teacher position at Punxsutawney Are High School (PAHS).

There were eight people who signed up to address the board regarding the proposal to eliminate one art teacher position.

• Christina Pierce, an art teacher at PAHS, said she wanted to address the elimination of one art teacher position at the end of the 2012-13 school year from several perspectives — as a teacher, as a former student and as a parent.

"This is my fourth year as as an art teacher at the high school, and the number of students who are taking art has steadily increased," Pierce said. "Currently, I teach 115 students per day, totaling 237 for the year.

Pierce added that, in her opinion, education should always comes first, and the art program has gained a lot of momentum over the last couple of years, momentum she said she would like to see continue.

"Cutting back the art program doesn't just displace a few students; it displaces a few hundred students," she said.

Pierce asked where those displaced students will go.

"If the students choose to be in art class, they should be in art class," she said. "It is so much more than just making art. It is an opportunity for students to express themselves. Let's face it; the social aspects of high school are difficult and can be very tough."

She said fitting in by far supersedes rational thinking.

"Art provides a safe outlet, as well as an accepting environment," she said. "Art also helps us to meet a wider range of individual student needs and different learning abilities. We are well aware that not every student in art class is planning on pursuing a career in art. But we do live in a very visual age, where art education teaches students how to use their eyes and hands to give form to ideas generated in their brains."

"These images can be used to solve problems, which is an ability for dentists, engineers and architects to create models, which inventors use to create ideas," Pierce said.

She said dentists are required to take clay classes for their profession and that it is pretty obvious that many careers are tied to the arts.

Pierce said that, according to the International Art Association, there are currently 1.25 million Americans in a visual arts profession.

"It's projected to increase 43 percent by the year 2016," Pierce said, adding that the NEA reported research that indicates students at risk who are engaged in a high school arts programs have a much lower dropout rate.

"It's obvious that art keeps students interested in our education system," she said. "I can speak about this personally. I am a former high graduate from PAHS; art class was my home. Not only did the art program provide me with the necessary skills and an art portfolio to get me into college, it gave me self confidence and a place where I fit in and I could thrive."

Pierce said that without the variety of art courses she was offered, she would have been at a disadvantage at college.

"I wouldn't have had a competitive knowledge or ability. As a parent, my son is in sixth grade, and the experience that I had, I would love for my son to have the opportunity to choose when he comes to the high school in a few years," she said.

Pierce quoted Thomas Freeman of the New York Times, saying, "We live in an age when the most valuable asset any economy can have is the ability to be creative and to spark an imagine new ideas, be they Broadway tunes, great books, iPads or a new cancer drug."

She added that she thanked the board for listening and that she hoped they would take what she said into consideration before voting to eliminate an art teaching position.

For further comments on the art teacher issue, see Thursday's print edition of The Spirit.