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Thursday August 5th

Area schools get creative as they adapt the arts to online instruction

<p>Arts programs and classes allow students to create art and perform, even through virtual classrooms. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Nash.</p>
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Arts programs and classes allow students to create art and perform, even through virtual classrooms. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Nash.

Arts classes and extracurriculars are adapting for online instruction at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and in the Orange County School District after both systems made the decision to be fully remote for at least the first nine weeks of school.

Brenda Whiteman, the arts coordinator for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said that none of the district’s programs were being cut, but that instruction would look different online. 

Whiteman said that the district will be using an online program called SmartMusic as well as other technology. Both visual and performing arts classes will be adapted for online instruction, and each come with their own set of unique challenges.

“For visual arts, the biggest challenge is student access to art supplies. During our emergency learning in spring 2020, the teachers surveyed students to find out which materials they had available at home. We distributed crayons to elementary students, and colored pencils to secondary students that needed them,” Whiteman said.

Whiteman noted that because of limited access to art supplies, the variety of media enjoyed in a traditional setting would be limited. Teachers reinvented the curriculum based on the availability of supplies.

Whiteman said that performing arts can also be difficult to adapt to virtual platforms because they are inherently social.

Aaron Noe, the band teacher at Orange High School in the Orange County School District, said that one of the challenges of teaching online is that it is more difficult to build community between students. 

“The band community is a social place for the student just as much as a musical outlet," Noe said. "Every band develops this relationship, this bond, this friendship almost like a family. I think that’s one of the biggest challenges. How do we develop and encourage that with the students and bring them together and have that sense of community?”

Whiteman said she believes the biggest challenges for the upcoming school year will be promoting social and emotional health, equity for students, and rethinking every aspect of schooling, teaching and learning.

Patrick Mitchell, a music teacher at Cameron Park Elementary in Hillsborough, said he believes the arts are even more important now, as they can help students deal with the present situation and release their stress.

“The arts are important in and of themselves, just from a culture standpoint because there is so much students gain from being a part of the arts. It's a form of expression for the kids to develop their own talents and their own techniques. All of those things are important regardless of whether we’re in a virtual setting or in classrooms,” Noe said.

The coming school year may come with a new set of challenges for teachers, administrators and students, but Mitchell and Noe believe there is a positive side to the situation. 

“Students were confined to the present moment of here and now in your classroom to present materials and present projects. Now we have these opportunities to use different programs and different technologies so that students can record their performances,” Mitchell said.

Noe said that while teaching virtually provides a challenge, it also allows more room for opportunities that would not be available to students in a typical year. 

“There is nothing that is going to replace the in-person experience that kids get in a performing arts classroom. But I think through all of this it is allowing a lot of creativity with directors all over the U.S. that are experiencing this," Noe said.

"I think in the end there will be some positive takeaways that will carry into that traditional setting, such as bringing in composers and specialists as guest speakers and guest artists.” 

Mitchell said that the positivity of the arts and his fellow arts teachers has made him confident that the coming school year will be successful.

“I am grateful for the people who have helped us from the leadership of our school system to make sure we are prepared, " Mitchell said. "Instead of fearing the upcoming school year, it is creating some very positive ideas in our learning group of arts teachers and I’m looking forward to it. It'll be a lot of fun."

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