This past weekend I, along with 13 other members of Palo Alto High School’s Thespian Troupe, traveled all the way down to Southern California to attend the International Thespian Society’s California State Thespian Festival. We competed against (and, of course, befriended) other thespians from all over the state. All in all, it was an amazing weekend, but above all, the experience made me realize just how important it is for the arts to be taught in public schools.
The argument over supporting the arts is not a new one: for years, people have debated the pros and cons of putting emphasis on subjects such as theater and painting instead of core academics such as science or and math. All over the state, and the country for that matter, schools have been slashing budgets for their arts programs to cope with the budget crisis. As both a theater kid and creative writer, I am obviously against these cuts, especially as sports programs continue to flourish just as they did 10 years ago. However, it was not until this weekend that I discovered how truly important the arts are for so many students.
My experience at Festival opened my eyes to the life-saving power of the arts. Over the span of the three-day festival, I met students who had suffered from depression, bullying, anxiety, low self-esteem, chronic shyness, eating disorders and other challenges I met students who had been discriminated against for their disabilities, race or sexual orientation. And one phrase I heard over and over again was: “Theater was the only place I felt comfortable.”
For these students, their schools’ arts programs were their saving graces — the only place they felt accepted and happy. The arts can help students grow into more interesting, well-rounded adults, but, even more importantly, they can save students who otherwise may not have the chance to grow into adults at all.
I had never before realized just how important school art programs are, or how much they need support, both here in the Palo Alto Unified School District and other districts around the country. Everyone can help make a difference by contributing to local art programs, whether it be by donating time or money to keep these programs on their feet. Programs such as theater and choir provide students with not only a different kind of education, but a safe haven where they can be themselves and be accepted, even if that’s not true of anywhere else.