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This article is presented in partnership with CA Lottery.

Winning the heart of a middle schooler isn’t easy. The quintessential age of snarl and rebellion poses challenges for educators, who can spend the entire school day looking for some kind of in or magic bullet that will get kids to sit up and take notice of what they’re being taught. It’s against this all-too-familiar backdrop that California’s public schools added a visual and performing arts requirement to middle school curriculum.

In order to enhance learning across all disciplines and subjects, and to support teachers to implement a powerful and rich arts-centric curriculum, the California State Board of Education adopted a Visual and Performing Arts Framework for California Public Schools from Kindergarten through Grade Twelve (PDF). The Framework, as it pertains to middle school students, puts forth a strong focus on teacher preparation and on gearing kids for further study in the arts. Middle schoolers are encouraged to explore visual art concepts important to them, through elective and special interest classes. Key elements of learning center on the stages of development and interests of adolescents, ensuring an atmosphere of peer-to-peer relevancy, so important to this age group.

A Hands-On Approach

Students are often asked to work on defining artistic problems both within and outside of classroom settings in an attempt to create the type of confidence required to continue studying within the field of their choice. Some of the challenges they take on during class include:

  • Developing a visual arts vocabulary
  • Analyzing design principles and art elements
  • Increasing artistic skill throughout a variety of media
  • Learning about color relationships
  • Explaining the intent of their own designs and personal works of art

This proactive emphasis has taken hold in at least one graduate. Twenty-six-year-old television producer Jonathan Craig is a graduate of the California public school system. Craig took art classes all through middle school at Hughes Middle School in Long Beach and was inspired to continue with career-focused, technical graphic arts and video production classes at Merced High School. “These classes prepared me for college and helped me create a great foundation upon which I’ve been able to build a career in television. I cannot overstate how much I owe to these art programs, and how I wish more resources could be devoted to building these programs up and encouraging kids to pass through them,” says Craig, who has worked on projects for multiple television networks, including Bravo, MSNBC and MTV.

A Legacy in the Making

A focus on visual and performing arts enables kids within this age group to experience the world in ways they may not have conceptualized before. It also provides validation for talents of many kinds to surface, become expressed and flourish, heightening self-esteem and a sense of purpose in life. Many middle school kids involved in art programs will go on to careers they never conceptualized were possible. Others will excel in fields seemingly unrelated to the arts. California’s educators recognize that learning art in school sparks multiple skill sets, including problem solving, time management and teamwork, producing a framework of future leaders and multi-faceted problem solvers.

Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.