The visual and performing arts (VAPA) are essential to a student’s academic and socio-emotional growth, however, many students still lack access to a quality arts education.

According to Create CA, California’s Statewide Arts Education Coalition, arts education impacts key indicators of student achievement, including English/Language Arts, mathematics, college and career readiness, graduation rates, English learner progress, and suspension rates. In addition, students with an arts education are five times more likely to remain in school, three times more likely to get a bachelor’s degree, and four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement. The arts help build critical skills such as creativity, initiative, self-expression, and a deepened sense of cultural inclusivity. It is an increasingly relevant area of California’s economy, generating 2.7 million jobs in 2019.

Despite this, only 12 percent of schools met California’s mandate to include VAPA in school curriculum for all students in grades one through six and offer such classes to all students in grades seven through 12. This is especially true for students who are from low-income families and who are students of color, who face the greatest barriers to a full and relevant arts education.

The San Mateo County Office (SMCOE) has been expanding its efforts to promote and support arts education in schools throughout the county. In 2020, it began actively implementing its Visual, Performing, and Media Arts Strategic Plan, intended to inspire arts educators across San Mateo County to provide engaging arts education integrated across all grade bands and subject matters.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever that schools and families support students’ mental health and well-being. A national survey published in November 2020 found that 80 percent of students report worsening mental health and experiencing trauma during the pandemic.

In response, the County Office of Education has leveraged the arts’ unique ability to lower anxiety, increase engagement, build resilience, and support mental health. It partnered with Lime Design Associates to host several Creativity Residencies, which immerse teachers in hands-on music, theater, visual arts, and dance experiences to build their creativity and tools for student engagement. In addition, the County Office of Education offered many opportunities for educators to learn how to connect instruction and learning with the arts, including its Third Annual Arts Institute in February 2021, which focused specifically on integrating creativity and arts across social and emotional learning and equity work as well as all subject areas.

San Mateo County Office of Education’s Arts and Restorative Learning Coordinator, Michelle Holdt, works with districts and teachers through professional development opportunities and also collaborates with many of the County Office programs such as Safe and Supportive Schools, Court and Community Programs, and more. She also co-facilitates and offers workshops connecting the arts to Restorative Practices and Staff Wellness.

The County Office of Education continues to encourage all schools and classrooms to celebrate the arts with meaningful school activities and programs that demonstrate a deeper understanding of and connection to ourselves and the world in which we live. Below are resources to learn more.