Students at Little River Elementary School are passionate about art, music and physical education.
They shared that passion Thursday with state Sen. Mike Woodard (D-Durham) who visited the school to learn more about how students feel about the potential loss of those classes called “encores” by students and teachers at the school.
Schools across the state could lose art, music and P.E. teachers if the state’s General Assembly does not back away from a law to require them to reduce K-3 class sizes.
The Durham Public Schools would either have to lay off 100 arts, music and P.E. teachers or find $6 million dollars to hire additional teachers to reduce class sizes if the mandate is allowed to stand.
“We don’t believe there’s a hundred elementary school teachers out there considering what the entire state would need to hire,” said DPS Superintendent Bert L’Homme, who accompanied Woodard on the visit to Little River. “And we don’t have 100 empty classrooms, so we’re really looking to the General Assembly to roll back those provisions.”
The amount needed to reduce K-3 class sizes for DPS would be less if a proposal by the state House is upheld by the Senate.
Under that plan — House Bill 13 — the cost of the state mandate would be cut to one-third of the initial estimate, or roughly $2.2 million to pay for about 30 teachers.
Woodard said the school districts in the two other counties in his senate district — Person and Caswell — would also be hit hard.
“That’s crippling for these school districts, especially in these smaller counties,” Woodard said.
Little River students sent Woodard and other lawmakers hundreds of letters, cards and pieces or art at the bequest of school arts teachers urging the lawmakers to do whatever is necessary to save their “encores.”
Woodard brought dozens of the letters, cards and drawings with him to share during his visit.
“I want you to know that when you send things to Raleigh, someone takes time to read them,” Woodard said. “After receiving a third packet from you, I said I wanted to meet you all.”
In an interview, Woodard said he was impressed by the students who understood the connection between arts and traditional subjects.
“I enjoyed the way they used music or art to connect to the other subjects,” Woodard said.
Madelyn Spencer, a fifth-grader, told Woodard that the early years are critical for artists.
“People who want a future in arts can’t have one if they can’t learn it here,” Spencer said.
Carter Crutchfield, a fifth-grader who served as an ambassador along with fellow fifth-graders Annable Cable and Caleb Schalliol and fourth-grader Jazmin China, said physcial education is important to curb obesity.
“A lot of America is like obese and P.E. is a way to lose weight,” Crutchfield said.
Other students also shared their fondness for art, music and P.E.
Woodard urged them to use their artistic skills to make placemats explaining their love for the arts and P.E. for use in the General Assembly’s cafeteria.
“I want the other senators to know exactly what you told me,” Woodard said.
Little River art teacher Barbi Bailey-Smith said taking away art, music and P.E. would have a huge impact on students.
“They help to develop the whole child,” Bailey-Smith said. “This is how we learn to think, move, interact and to work as a team and work independently to find our strengths.”
Bailey-Smith the arts aren’t more important than other subjects but are no less important.
“When we told the children this might happen, they began to burst into tears,” she said.