Whitman, Pyle strive to increase the number of students on the arts track

By Sarah Tong

Pyle principal Christopher Nardi and Whitman art department head Kristi McAleese met at the start of the new school year to look for ways to encourage eighth graders to pursue an arts track at Whitman.

McAleese said that, right now, Pyle counselors are encouraging rising freshmen to take physical education and health classes instead of art during their freshman year, which decreases the number of students signing up for art classes. 

Since 2017, the number of art classes offered at Whitman has slowly decreased due to fewer students signing up for upper-level art classes. This trend has created difficulties for the Whitman art department; this year, for example, the department lost two classes, resulting in a full-time teacher teaching only three classes, McAleese said. 

Although there isn’t a set number, the change is noticeable. 

“If you looked at the Photo numbers five years ago, in a class of 35 students, around 25 would be freshmen,” photography teacher Michael Seymour said. “Now, for the first year ever, I have more upperclassmen per class than I do freshmen. It’s like 55% to 45%.” 

McAleese decided to meet with Nardi in order to communicate what the Whitman art classes have to offer incoming students, and to also brainstorm ways to increase the number of art-takers, she said. 

“We just want to make sure that it’s known that you can take all four years of art — if that’s your passion — while completing the rest of your course load too,” McAleese said. 

McAleese also hopes that at the county level, MCPS will incorporate more STEAM classes — courses that combine art and science. 

The integration of art into STEM classes would be beneficial to students because the arts provide critical thinking and problem-solving skills that students can’t get in other areas, McAleese said. 

“You could be this wonderful mathematician, but if you don’t have that creative problem-solving skills that the arts provide, you might be limited to what you can invent,” she said. “I’d really like to see the county go towards STEAM because then the STEM and the arts come back together.”

Another reason why fewer freshmen taking art is because of how the Introduction to Engineering Design class has expanded; more students are taking IED instead of art. Due to their middle school counselor’s recommendation, a lot of freshmen choose to take IED and P.E. first instead of art. 

Junior Dawn Segiall took Foundations of Art her freshman year. 

“I really wanted to take art because I really enjoyed it, but I needed to take core classes such as AP Biology and Physics so I didn’t have any space in my schedule,” Siegall said. 

During their meeting this fall, McAleese and Nardi discussed ways to combat the decrease in art classes. They suggested having Whitman hold an Arts Showcase Night so that incoming students can view students’ works and learn about each different art class, Nardi said. 

Many art teachers believe that taking art can be an extremely beneficial part of your high school career. 

Students need a period a day where they can decompress, and they can get that from art, Seymour said. 

“Students here need that mental aspect more than any other place I’ve taught in my life,” he said. “[Art] is mentally good for you.”