The place and value of the arts is hotly debated at all levels of education, especially as school administrators struggle with low student achievement outcomes and ever-shrinking budgets. Despite the debate of where the arts belong, many education professionals understand implicitly that early exposure to the arts leads to greater participation in and valuation of the arts in later years. Arts education correlates with overall academic success because involvement in the arts has a positive impact on children’s self-esteem, curiosity, creativity and ability to communicate. 
One solution to retaining arts in the schools is to introduce programmatic offerings from outside organizations like Opera Cleveland. Our programs provide an opportunity for students to work with professional artists and educators in an environment where exposure to arts has been drastically reduced or removed from the curriculum.
An outside evaluation conducted by High/Scope Education of Cleveland Opera’s programs in Lorain County elementary schools shows that students and teachers are engaged by our programs and experience positive outcomes. Students involved with opera projects score dramatically higher on national and state tests as compared with the non-opera students and gain knowledge and skills that transfer beyond the opera experience.
- 92% of parents rated the programs as either helpful or somewhat helpful to their children’s overall learning and development; children were observed participating more actively in learning, gaining confidence in their abilities and learning to work more cooperatively.
- 92% of parents rated the program as either helpful or somewhat helpful in enhancing their children’s academic learning and skills.
- 77% of parents want to see the program continue in schools.
- 69% of teachers rated the program as enhancing students’ motivation to learn.
- 77% of teachers rated the program as enhancing students’ classroom skills.
- 69% of teachers rated the program as effectively contributing to the students’ emotional and social development.
- 85% of teachers assessed the program as effectively enhancing students’ arts awareness, appreciation and experiences.
From principals of partner schools:
“The opera program was a big learning experience for the teachers as well as the students. From the students’ learning, the teachers realized that students are capable of doing anything. The teachers can raise the expectations of the students.”
“It has developed the students’ self-esteem and promoted group interaction. The children become responsible to each other and everyone had an important role to play. There was a positive response from the parents and the community.”
“I learned to keep working on something and get it done… It takes teamwork to get things done… Things get done better if you listen. You need to cooperate – not always get your own way… I learned to try my best.”
Over the past 31 years, the company has been the recipient of local and national recognition and awards for its dedication to education and outreach. Awards include the prestigious Ohio Governor’s Award for Excellence in Arts Education, Arts Champion awards (from Vocal Arts Resource Network and Young Audiences of Greater Cleveland), and several awards for being the first in the state to offer sustained arts programs specifically for senior citizens, for patients confined to hospitals, and for children and adults with developmental disabilities.
The goals of Opera Cleveland’s arts-based outreach and education programs are to:
- introduce and actively involve students and adults in a range of opera repertoire and creative processes;
- strengthen student academic outcomes while making explicit links to Fine Arts Benchmarks and the Ohio Academic Content Standards;
- establish mutually beneficial partnerships between artists, presenters and educators as well fostering inter-generational collaboration;
- invigorate and enrich student and adult work and accomplishments through the multi-dimensional nature of opera;
- develop student and adult curiosity and build student self-esteem through active participation;
- foster a positive attitude toward opera and musical theatre through rewarding involvement and attendance.
Implementation And Outcomes
To achieve the previously stated goals of Opera Cleveland’s Department of Education and Outreach the company:
- Selects artists through regular auditions who are appropriate for each program and presentation;
- Develops all program content to be engaging and educational; meeting Ohio Academic Content Standards and Fine Arts Benchmarks when working with students in grades K-12;
- Guides students to study and interpret the characters, music and stories in existing operas and lead them through the creative processes of writing, composing and producing original opera works;
- Endeavors to support and guide teachers and schools to increase the involvement of parents, families and senior adults from their communities by involving them in opera processes, presentations and shared events.
Opera Cleveland’s Education and Outreach activities are focused on two distinct activities: Music! Words! Opera! and the Great Works Preview program.
Music! Words! Opera! builds critical thinking skills in the arts and links those processes to other studies as students immerse themselves in a famous opera and create their own original opera. Opera Cleveland Music Mentors partner with teachers in Northeast Ohio schools. The program has two parts: Listen and Discover, where students study a great opera in the classroom, followed by Create and Produce, where students are led through the 10 week process of writing, composing and presenting their own original opera for peers, friends and family. Since 1992, 200 student operas have been created. In many schools, parents and senior adults step in to help students with different tasks and creative work.
In the Great Works Preview program in-school study and preparation activities are presented by school staff and Opera Cleveland teaching artists. Subsequently, students, teachers, parents and senior adults come to the State Theatre to see full-length, fully-staged mainstage opera. The key to the success of the theater experience is the preparatory work in the schools. All teachers can download an in-depth resource guide and support materials.
 Reading is Fundamental. (n.d.). Literacy and the Arts: Questions and Answers. Available online at http://www.rif.org/educators/rifexchange/programdescriptions/QA_show303.mspx