Expanding the Mind by Expanding the Arts

How teaching the arts to all of K-12 opens minds early

by Dr. Rod Berger

When arts funding in the California public school system was drastically cut, Dr. Theresa Rouse was heartbroken. As a district superintendent in Central California and a person who has been passionate about music from an early age, there was no doubt in her mind or philosophy that the arts were a critical part of a child’s development and education. From the age of six, she played piano, sang in the school and church choir, played the violin, and was part of the orchestra from elementary school all the way through high school. When turning her focus on superintendent positions back home in the Midwest, Dr. Rouse heard about the progressive arts program in the Joliet, Illinois Public Schools District 86 and became sold.

Patrick Baker was also passionate about the arts from a very early age. Like Dr. Rouse, he started singing in church and school choirs when he was very small. He parlayed his love of music into a career directing choirs and is now the arts administrator for Joliet’s Public Schools District 86.

Both he and Dr. Rouse are well versed in the research and theories on brain research and how young people think.  They both know that the arts form and strengthen the connections between both sides of the brain — the creative and the cognitive. Dr. Rouse notes that when building the whole child, the focus needs to be on the creative and analytical sides of the mind. It's important to understand how they connect and how they bridge across the synapses that link them all together. That’s where true learning happens, and arts in education plays a significant factor.

“It's so critical for the full development of a child as they're in the growth cycle,” Dr. Rouse says. “It's the best way, I feel, to be able to reach not just the analytical side of the child but the heart and soul as well.”

I recently sat down with Dr. Rouse and Baker to discuss their efforts to support the arts in education, and the role technology and online resources are playing in changing how we educate our kids.

Interview Highlights From This Episode

  • 3:50 – Can the arts impact the way a student engages from an SEL perspective?
  • 6:00 ­– How do you engage the community, public, and private sector?
  • 7:10 – Going from famine to feast
  • 8:00 – As the arts programs expand…
  • 10:20 – Teaching the YouTube generation

About Dr. Theresa R. Rouse

Dr. Theresa Rouse became Superintendent of Schools for Joliet Public Schools District 86 in July of 2016. She came to Joliet from King City Union School District in King City, California where she served as Superintendent for four years. Prior to that, she spent five years at the Santa Cruz County Office of Education in Santa Cruz, California where she served in a variety of roles including Associate Superintendent of Educational Services. Collectively, Dr. Rouse has over 30 years of educational experience.

Dr. Rouse is originally from Marion, Indiana. Dr. Rouse holds a Doctorate Degree in Educational Leadership from Argosy University in Phoenix, Arizona and a Master’s Degree in Education from Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana. She received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Education from Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri.

Dr. Rouse currently supervises 11,559 students in grades Pre-Kindergarten through Eighth Grade that attend Joliet District 86 Schools. She oversees a $122 million operating budget and 1,509 employees in 23 buildings, including Eisenhower Academy, a 2016 National Blue Ribbon School.

Dr. Rouse serves as a director on the Joliet Grade Schools Foundation for Educational Excellence, a member of Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry Education Committee, and a member of Joliet Rotary Club International. She also belongs to numerous state and national education organizations. Follow Dr. Rouse on Twitter.

About Patrick M. Baker

Patrick M. Baker is passionate about urban education, innovation, and the arts. After pursuing degrees in music education and educational leadership, he and his wife moved to the Chicago suburbs where he began his career as a music educator and arts administrator. He currently serves as the Fine Arts Coordinator for Joliet Public Schools District 86 in Joliet, IL where he leads a team of music and art educators and oversees all aspects of the District’s historic fine arts programs.

Under Baker’s leadership, the Fine Arts Department has experienced continued growth and development. In the fall of 2017, he led a major expansion project which added 25% more teachers to the department, modernized the curriculum, and allowed for both music and art instruction to begin in kindergarten for all students. He is working on another expansion, planned for the fall of 2018, that will allow further program growth and more regular arts instruction for K-5th-grade students.

In his spare time, Baker loves to learn, explore, and coach others. He serves as a vocal and choral clinician and as an arts education consultant in the Chicago area. He is the Choral Coach for the West Suburban Symphony Chorus, he is a Doctor of Education student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and he is active in various professional, religious, and community organizations. He and his wife love to travel, visit up-and-coming restaurants, and watch movies. You can find him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or at home watching baseball.

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