As thousands of students returned to schools in Volusia County in recent weeks, many prepared not only to hit the books but also brush up on their art techniques, warm up their vocal cords and tune their instruments to head back to their fine arts classes.

While students enjoy classes in the arts as a fun outlet to express creativity, integrating arts into their education has numerous benefits that help them succeed in academics and beyond.

What classes are offered?

Volusia County Schools’ fine arts classes fall under Visual Arts and Performing Arts and are offered across all grade levels.

All elementary students take music and art, and many arts courses are offered at the secondary level in middle and high schools, including band, chorus, orchestra, dance and theater. Students can also learn to play piano, keyboard and guitar. Middle schoolers can choose 2D or 3D art, and high schoolers can dive even deeper with Advanced Placement classes in drawing, art and music theory.

What are the benefits of taking arts classes in school?

The district’s arts specialists concur that there are a variety of benefits from enrolling students in the arts for their elective classes. Arts classes foster creativity, improve problem-solving skills, enhance self-expression, boost self-confidence and promote cultural understanding.

“Arts classes provide a well-rounded education that complements academic subjects and can lead to improved cognitive development and a more balanced and enriched learning experience,” VCS Fine Arts Resource Teacher Craig Uppercue, who is also an adjunct music professor at Stetson University, said.

John Dupuis, VCS performing arts specialist and a conductor/composer, notes that he’s seen higher graduation rates, increased academic performance and better temperament from arts students, and many are more involved across other areas of school.

“One of the biggest reasons to put your kids in the arts is that it gives an outlet to express creatively their particular interests, whether that’s music or art or dance or theater,” he said.

Visual Arts Specialist Bryce Hammond, an acclaimed artist himself, notes that arts offer an advantage from a young age at the elementary level before students are introduced to sports at school.

“It’s an engaging, hands-on experience,” he said, noting the unique experience they may have shaping clay and making pottery in a kiln, for example.

Art in education opens to door to other opportunities

Aside from being a fun outlet and having educational benefits, art in education opens the doors to a world of opportunities and careers for students to pursue.

“This is an opportunity for them to find their passions and explore their interests,” Dupuis said. “Our goal with our programs is that we will have a sequential K-12 curriculum where students will go through all 13 grades doing music, art or both.”

Nonprofit ArtHaus, the Museum of Arts & Science in Daytona Beach and the Museum of Arts in DeLand all offer arts programs and scholarships that prepare students for VCS programs as well.

As students advance through school, many have gone on to bigger stages. In March, Spruce Creek High School’s marching band traveled to Dublin, Ireland, to perform in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. DeLand High School’s band was also featured in the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C., in May. Next January, University High School’s Titan Regiment Band will also perform at the London New Year’s Day Parade in January while the school’s choir will sing in the London International Choral Festival.

Theatre and dance programs also travel and perform extensively both statewide and nationally, and student artwork has been displayed in locations as prestigious as Carnegie Hall, the Florida Capitol and U.S. Capitol. Many students have also gone on to college to study art or music on scholarships.

How to sign up for art electives

The VCS arts specialists stress that it’s never too late to join a visual or performing arts class.

“Anyone can join. No experience necessary. If you want to do music, we’re going to find a way for you to do music. If you want to do art, we’re going to find a way for you to do art,” both Hammond and Dupuis reiterated.

Sign-up for electives will take place in January, and students are encouraged to rank their arts electives as their first choice to increase their chances of being placed in the class.

Support the arts

Guests are invited to attend Art Stars of Volusia County, a selection of art created by Volusia County high school students curated from the spring 2023 exhibitions and state art award recipients. The show will open on Sept. 2 from 4-7 p.m. and run through Oct. 1 at The Hub on Canal Founders Gallery at 132 Canal St. in New Smyrna Beach.