ArtsEdNow Q & A with Acting Commissioner of Education Kimberley Harrington
Posted On February 28, 2017
1. What role did arts education play in your own education?
The arts played a large role in my education and in my personal development. I began playing the flute in 3rd grade band and continue to play to present day. In 8th grade, I joined the marching band and played piccolo for one year. Then my band director sent me to leadership camp and I served the next 4 years as the drum major of the marching band. As a drum major, I learned life-long lessons about myself, the structure, sense of community, and leadership skills. Additionally, I danced for 16 years – tap and ballet. Dancing served as an excellent stress release for me and I enjoyed the creativity I experienced through the interaction of music and movement. Finally, when I was performing in our school musicals I found a community “family” similar to the one I found in the marching band. I developed the discipline required to budget my time well to balance late night rehearsals while maintaining my grades.
2. Was there an arts educator who had an influence on you? If so, please tell us about him or her.
Mr. Robert Bauknight was my band director. He was the man who, other than my parents, first saw my leadership potential and he fostered it until I began to see my own potential. He had a thick southern drawl, a wonderful sense of humor, and we adored him. He was always available for us, not just in our band period or at after school practices. He was always a wonderful listener and guided us to search for answers to our own problems. Mr. Bauknight remained a huge part of my life until he passed away while I was in college. I still hear his voice and refer to his pearls of wisdom I keep tucked away. I always say he was the wind beneath my wings and he quietly guided me to recognize strengths and talents within myself I didn’t realize I had.
3. What role does arts education play with your own family/children?
Growing up, my father played the piano and sang. I would fall asleep at night listening to him play and sing. I have many fond memories of music and dance in my household. My father also took professional dance lessons in Manhattan for much of his life. We were always dancing, singing, and listening to music throughout the house. My mother affectionately termed herself “the audience” and she would sit and listen to my sister and I play with my father (my sister played the clarinet.) Mom would join in the dancing and she and my father are wonderful dancers.
My youngest son plays trumpet, violin, marimbas, and just recently added the ukulele to his list. My eldest son played the marimbas and did Irish step dance. He also enjoys photography. Both boys are/were in the marching band. Music, for all of us, is our therapy and “go-to” activity. Thankfully, my sons have both had the privilege of having their own “Mr. Bauknight” in their lives and have been inspired and guided by excellent music educators.
4. What is your view on the role of arts education for our students and how may your experiences have shaped your viewpoint once you became an educational leader?
My own experiences as a child and student definitely had a huge impact on me as a teacher. For example, when teaching Kindergarten, I began each day with singing and dancing with my students and ended each year with a musical put on by the children for their parents. When I taught the middle school grades, I ran the drama club and always did a musical with my children and asked students to design and create the sets, costume, and makeup. Throughout my career as an in-district educator, I always incorporated the arts into my classroom in a variety of ways, encouraged and my students as they experimented in their interest areas to find their own passions, and supported my students by attending their performances, recitals, and shows.
My view of arts education is multi-faceted. I believe the arts provide rich experiences for students to find and express their inner creativity; learn critical life skills – self-discipline, time management, leadership skills, poise, presentation, etc; find ways to relax, release stress, and explore their feelings through art expression; and most critically, find their voice and use this voice to speak loudly and powerfully on behalf of oneself or on behalf of others who may not have found their voice.
5. As Acting Commission, what is your view on how arts education may play a greater role in the educational development of our students?
I believe the arts are a way to bring content to students in a way that may be intimidating for some. For example, mathematics and science are critical skills for students to have a firm foundation before they graduate from high school. Many of our students are afraid of these content areas and don’t identify as having strengths in mathematics and/or science. How many adults have been heard saying “I’m not a math person” or “I was never good at math”? The arts are rich in science and mathematics – imagine introducing the two content areas through context by leading students through composing a song. Composition requires you bring the mathematics behind beats per measure, timing, length and duration of notes and combines it with the science of sound. My father, who taught mathematics and music, was responsible for showing me how the arts have the power to connect content for students in dynamic ways.
New Jersey Department of Education