Greenville art teacher playing leading role in new arts education standards

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 9:14 am on Monday, March 11, 2013

Greenville Middle School sixth graders Will Koehler, 11, left, and Ryan Burden, 12, work on a drawing assignment Thursday morning in art class at Greenville Middle School. — Daily News/Cory Smith


GREENVILLE — When measuring the value of a student’s education, there are countless factors that are considered and evaluated before a single assignment is eventually handed from teacher to student.

Be it math, science, English or history, the coursework educators teach on a national level takes years of study and development before a final curriculum is established.

The same can be said for arts, drama, choir and band programs that compliment the core curriculum of public schools.

Greenville Middle School art teacher September Buys has been working for more than a year with a 10-teacher team to develop a new arts curriculum for the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (NCCAS).

September Buys

With the new curriculum to be evaluated in the summer, tested in the autumn and winter and ready for the 2014-2015 school year, Buys says the significance of working on such an important project is difficult to measure.

“It’s an honor to be a part of this,” Buys said. “I’m working with some really incredible people that are leaders in the field. It’s just an amazing opportunity that I had to jump at.”

Buys, who has been teaching at the middle school since 2001, credited her experience and qualifications, having earned her bachelor’s degree in art education from Western Michigan University and master’s degree from Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, as to why she was selected to be part of the committee working to create the new national curriculum.

Buys was also recently awarded by the National Art Education Association (NAEA) as the overall National Middle Level Art Teacher of the year.

“There was an application process and a lot of people applied,” she said. “I was very fortunate to be selected. I’m considered one of their middle-level experts.”

According to Buys, the arts curriculum was last updated in 1994 and is now considered to be outdated.

The new curriculum will apply to pre-kindergarten through 12th grade for students enrolled in public schools throughout the country.

“It’s really important to me to make something that is teacher friendly and is useful for teachers,” she said. “That will help guide and shape positive change in the field. The work that we are doing, it’s the most important work that I’ll ever do professionally.”

Buys said the changes being made, which focus on performance standards that articulate what students should be able to know and do in the arts area at different grade levels, are being done so to properly reflect the way teaching has changed in the last 20 years, incorporating new resources and technology that are now available today.

Greenville Middle School sixth graders Cheyene Hump, 11, left, and Madison Cox, 11, work on drawing assignment Thursday morning in art class at Greenville Middle School.

“The work that we are doing is going to shape and inform all future research, classroom practice and textbooks,” she said. “Everything refers back to the national standards. It’s been a really cool experience knowing that you are effecting a lot of change.”

Buys recently traveled to New York City to meet with other educators from around the country who are creating the new national voluntary pre-kindergarten through 12th grade arts education standards.

There are five categories within the arts — dance, media arts, music, theatre, and visual arts — that are receiving updated curriculums in the NCCAS.

Buys said the key components to writing the new curriculum consist of three tiers; creating, presenting and responding.

“An experience in arts education is going to broaden your perspective,” she said. “It’s going to teach you to be a deeper thinker. You’re going have an awareness of the world around you in a different way than you would if you didn’t have an arts background. Your life will be richer for it.”

Middle School Principal Leigh Acker said recent initiatives by Buys have helped to transform the arts atmosphere at the school.

“At the end of last school year, September and I sat down to create another art class for our students and I asked that it not be the same as a traditional art class,” Acker said.

Buys responded, creating a new creative endeavors art class.

“This art class has students hooked on art,” Acker said. “Those students that thought they didn’t have a creative bone in their bodies have gone beyond their own expectations. It is all because September took a kernel of an idea and made it come to life based on the needs of our middle school students.”

Greenville Superintendent Pete Haines said Buys deserves the accolades and responsibilities she has been handed, citing her passion for both discipline and compassion for her students.

“We are proud of September, who is fulfilling a most critical role in service to the teaching profession, assuring the most meaningful and inspiring learning in Greenville and classrooms across our entire nation,” Haines said. “She is a blessing among our ranks.”

With students required to take an arts related class in order to graduate high school in Michigan, Buys said she will continue to be diligent in her attempts to make art a part of students’ daily lives.

“Artists think and behave differently, as creative people do,” she said. “If you look at our new economy, that’s the direction of where we should be heading. That’s the one thing that the United States has, that other countries have been clamoring for, is this innovative drive.”

Sixth grade students at Greenville Middle School work on an assignment Thursday morning in one of September Buys’ art classes. Buys is currently working with teachers from across the county to develop a new national arts curriculum. — Daily News/Cory Smith

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