An outstanding education includes opportunities for creativity
“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way—things I had no words for.”
– Georgia O’Keefe
Although Keystone is rightly known for its academic programs, we are equally proud of our young people’s achievement in the creative arts. For example, just last week, we learned that 42 students from 1st through 11th grade will be published in the Young Pegasus poetry anthology. Also in poetry, two Cobras won the Ekphrastic Poetry Contest, which challenged young writers to create a work inspired by a piece of visual art.
Meanwhile, 14 upper school students and five teachers boarded a bus and headed to Fort Worth for the Annual Independent Schools Association of the Southwest (ISAS) Arts Festival earlier this week. This isn’t a competition, but rather a three-day showcase and celebration of creativity in the arts.
At this event, some 5,000 students from about 100 schools gather to observe each other’s performances and artwork. Students sing, act, play instruments, and display their individual pieces in a spirit of collegiality and mutual support, and teachers adjudicate the work and provide constructive feedback. From morning until night, young adults observe peer artists from other schools and learn from each other.
Students at the Arts Festival create an atmosphere of mutual respect, support, and encouragement. It’s heartening to see teens approach total strangers and compliment each other on their performance or artwork. Just as exciting are the spontaneous jam sessions that occur on the lawn when students from a variety of schools with instruments in hand join together in a song. It feels like a combination of the old movie/television show “Fame” and summer camp.
In the past, Keystone students did not travel to the ISAS Arts Festival, but that changed in 2019. As the Keystone teachers who accompanied the students that year can attest, it’s a life-changing experience for the adolescents. High schoolers returned from the school in Austin where it was held that year telling their younger friends that they had to go. Then the festival was suspended for two years because of the pandemic, which made this year’s festival even more special.
Cobras attending the Arts Festival is one of many programmatic changes in the arts that Keystone has implemented over the past few years. For example, in 2019-2020, we expanded music into high school and introduced theater arts in Kindergarten. Although students took the Advanced Placement Art Portfolio test in the past, we now offer AP Art Portfolio Courses in 2-D and 3-D. In addition, Keystone expanded the digital arts curriculum across the middle and high school and introduced it in 4th grade.
Some people may question the rationale for growing the arts in a school that is so well-known for its STEM programs. As study after study has demonstrated and as we see at Keystone, immersion in the arts helps children and young people in all areas. The creativity students demonstrate in painting or acting often transfers into discoveries they make in physics or chemistry. They have opened their minds to new possibilities and different ways of seeing things in one area; in turn, this allows them to formulate alternative modes in science, math, history, English, and language.
The mindset of deliberate practice in the arts helps teach discipline in students’ other academic pursuits. Students learn that they need to rehearse musical pieces or their lines in a play and this resembles going over verb conjugations in languages or times tables in math. They come to understand that in order to improve in any realm, they must work long and hard.
Repeatedly, we hear from alumni that the skills and mindset they learned in the arts made them better doctors, scientists, engineers, lawyers, and professionals in other fields. For example, an alumnus pursuing medical research in aging credits acting on stage at Keystone for much of his success. A doctor commends Keystone public speaking courses for helping them become more proficient in their rounds. While some Keystone alumni opt to study art in college, many go on to other areas but attribute some of their success in whatever endeavor they chose to the time they spent in the performance spaces and art rooms at Keystone.
The theater, music room, and art studios can also serve as a sanctuary during times of stress. Here again, current and former Cobras describe the arts rooms as a place where they can relax, access a different element of themselves, and rejuvenate for other academic pursuits. The personal restoration, creative joy, and supportive encouragement from peers and excellent teachers they experience in the studio emboldens students to move on with their day and take risks that lead to discoveries in other areas of their lives. As the 19th Century English painter JW Turner once said, “It is only when we are no longer fearful that we begin to create.”