The Stone Age: New Tools In Educating The Whole Child

There’s more and more hard science piling up behind the long-standing intuition that arts education develops the whole child, improving engagement and even academic performance.

Public schools in the United States, particularly public schools in urban spaces, have a big problem when it comes to arts education: it has been in steep decline for three decades, and it is African American and Hispanic students who often suffer the most.


Darin Earley, Director of Loyola Marymount University’s Family of Schools, and Deanna Cooke, clinical assistant professor at LMU’s Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts, have developed a two-pronged program addressing this inequality, one that caught the attention of the U.S Department of Education.

Together with the Educational District Center West of the Los Angeles Unified School District, they were recently awarded a  $1,165,000 grant to combine the visual arts and Latino and African American studies in a pilot project in six of their elementary schools.

I spoke to Darin Earley and Deanna Cooke over the phone.  “What the research really ferrets out,” says Earley, “ is that students who have a better understanding of who they are culturally have a large tendency to perform better academically. Also that academic performance is enhanced by having a strong arts program. So, we have both an arts concern and a cultural concern.”

The challenge for Earley and Cooke

was to develop an educational program

  ‘to kill two birds with one stone.’

Their test ground was an elementary school within their district where a master art teacher has been volunteering her services for 4 years – and with remarkable results.

“You should see it,” says Earley. “They have two galleries on campus, a ceramics studio with a kiln. They are doing things in elementary school you would not believe.”

With this grant Earley and Cooke ­­hope to spread the know-how around the district.

And it doesn’t stop there. Says Earley, “We’d like to become a model for what can be done throughout LAUSD where the conversation about arts education and cultural history has been pushed to the background.”

“There are other schools within the LAUSD with robust arts programs” says Earley. But these programs are typically funded by soft money raised by parents from booster clubs and the like.

“There’s a tremendous disparity between the programs,” he continues. For instance, one high school in his district has a performing arts program but no visual arts program.

It’s not that parents don’t understand the value of arts education. The problem is that the people sitting down making the budgets are ‘myopic’ because they do not have arts specialists advising them.

And this is especially true when it comes to understanding the value of visual arts training, the focus of the LMU pilot project.

“Even today, when they are talking about STEAM, they are mostly talking about performing arts and technology,” says Earley.

The Department of Education grant is for four years. The first camp for teachers is starting this summer, with two additional ones planned. Year-round professional development is being offered and an art forum is to take place each spring.

“We are focusing what it takes to teach art at the elementary level, competently and effectively, with research backing up their competence and knowledge,” says Deanna Cooke.

“Our four year goal is to have six schools where the teachers understand that the Arts are a complement  to the curriculum to increase competencies as opposed to just another thing they have to do.

“We also want to prove that students in schools can have a strong visual arts experiences even without having a dedicated visual arts program.”


The Loyola Marymount University’s Family of Schools is a collaborative dedicated to promoting student success and educational equity for the schools in the Westchester community. FOS currently has 13 public and private school partners. Source:


Contributing from Montreal, Quebec CN