Songs about computer coding? It’s what happens when an arts school adds STEM focus
By GEORGE WHITE, EdSource
When Zane D’Amico enrolled at Renaissance Arts Academy in 2011, he expected the Los Angeles charter school to help him enhance his skills as a cellist.
What he didn’t expect was that two years later the school would adopt a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) curriculum and he would be using engineering and math skills to build massive stages for the school’s dance, orchestra and singing performances. And he certainly didn’t anticipate joining classmates on stage to sing about the joys of computer coding.
Zane, now a senior, plans to major in computer science and hopes to attend UC Berkeley. An “A” student, he’s among the top performers in a school with a track record of preparing students for college. An average of 97 percent of its students over the past four years have been accepted at four-year universities — including MIT, Caltech, Harvard and the Juilliard School of Music.
Renaissance Arts was founded as an arts school in 2003. When a committee from the California Department of Education examined the rigor of the school’s academic programs in 2013, the group designated Renaissance a California Distinguished School and encouraged the school to adopt the STEAM school status it has held the past four years.
Most STEAM schools are STEM schools that recently added arts education. Renaissance Arts, a K-12 school with 550 students, is more successful partly because it first established an effective arts education program, said Diane Friedlaender, a senior associate at the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education at Stanford University.
Friedlaender, who has helped school districts expand their arts programs, said arts education helps children in their early years develop cognitive skills that wire the brain for successful learning. As they grow older, art can help students develop grit, she said.
“It can help strengthen students’ ability […]