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Digging Deeper: Future of fine arts education

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(WEEK) - Social distancing, masks, increased sanitation , and barriers. The school year is going to look a lot different this year and the same goes for the fine arts.

When in person instruction came to a screeching halt this past spring, Washington High School's vocal music teacher, Lara Reem, said it forced them to think in a different key.

"The pivot was to switch to lessons about music theory, about music history, about current musicians, about composers, and so we could gather that sort of information that we didn't always have time to do." said Reem

Director of vocal music at Pekin High School, Leigh Grizzard, said with virtual learning, every home became a concert hall.

"We still worked on performance skills and vocalizing. Students recorded themselves and sent them to me and I evaluated them and gave them feedback." said Grizzard

With many area schools following hybrid back to school plans, Richwoods Principal Carly Emken said the fine arts are still a priority.

"As adults we are struggling with everything that's going on and so students that are growing and developing right now they have even more difficult things to face and the arts are a platform where they can express themselves." said Emken

The number one concern for teachers, how the return to the music room can be done in a safe way.

"There have been some scary studies that have said singing is the most dangerous thing you can do right now, however there have also been a few promising studies where people are trying to come up with solutions." said Grizzard

Preliminary research from the University of Maryland and a number of national music organizations like the National Federation of State High Schools recorded the number of particles that were released into the air as students sang and played an instrument with no protections.

"Because of the nature of what they're doing that aerosol tends to stay in the air longer, it's more prolonged exhalation." said Reem

But the study also found that with coverings and other mitigation techniques like a bag over the instrument or a mask while singing, the number of particles in the air decreased drastically meaning less potential exposure.

That is why some schools have purchased things like bell covers, instrument bags, and specific masks for performing.

Dunlap's curriculum director Meghan Bagby said precautions are also being taken for the visual and physical arts.

"We're trying to avoid shared materials as much as possible so if that means additional safety equipment or materials need to be purchased so that students can engage in those procedures. Or we have a sanitation procedure if it is a shared object that we can't just get a ton of." said Bagby

So when could we see audience members in theater seats once again, well like many things with COVID-19 there is not a definite answer, but there are some options.

"How can we have mini performances to show everything the students have learned, their expertise and share that with the student body, share that with their families." said Emken at Richwoods High School

Emken said they have also considered recording performances to share virtually.

"That's so important for mental health for so many people, especially musicians who when we found out we couldn't sing together it's like taking part of our identity away." said Grizzard from Pekin

But at the end of the day, when the bell tolls, they all agree that mask wearing is going to be a part of the foreseeable future.

"I would take them outside, and I would socially distance them at least 10 feet apart and pay attention to where the wind is coming from." said Reem from Washington

Depending on regulations they are also composing back up plans.

"Maybe they sing at home on their virtual day and they send a recording to me and maybe we have a zoom voice lesson and then when they're with me we work more on those foundational musical concepts." said Grizzard

Administrators said that teachers have been incredibly flexible and deserve loads of praise for working so hard to give the best education for their students.

"They are continually learning, taking professional development, trying to use the internet, and find out what their colleagues are doing. They're trying to figure out what they can do so their students, who they love seeing every day, can continue their love of the arts." said Bagby.

"I'm under no illusion that it's going to feel normal. It's going to feel weird." said Reem

Kaitlin Pearson

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