Now a successful businessman and philanthropist, Richard Fields still remembers his elementary school music teacher with appreciation. He now is funding an extensive arts program at his former school to give todays students the experiences he had. Included: Description of an in-school and afterschool arts program.
Long before Richard Fields became chairman of Coastal Development, LLC, which develops resort properties and entertainment venues, he was a student at C.S. 102 in the East Bronx, New York. It was there that a teacher introduced him to music, in the form of the clarinet, and broadened his perspective beyond the borough where he lived and went to school. To help other kids thrive, Fields founded the Fields Family Foundation in 2005, which supports several organizations whose aim is to protect the rights of children and ensure their safety.
The foundation supports Good Shepherd Services, a non-profit organization that provides social, residential, and foster care services to struggling children and their families in several New York City boroughs. Recently, through that organization, the Fields Family Foundation pledged $1.8 million to pilot an arts education program at C.S. 102, to give children the chance to grow through involvement in the arts.
The importance of art education also is regaining prominence on the national scene. In August 2009, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a letter to school and community leaders stressing the importance of art education and announcing an upcoming survey that will be used to develop the first comprehensive profile of art education in the United States.
Fields talked about his long-time commitment to arts education with Education World.
Education World: How did you become interested in the arts and arts education?
Richard Fields: As a child, when I attended C.S. 102 elementary school, I was given my first instrument, a clarinet, which exposed me to a world beyond the neighborhood. That experience was a turning point. I now have been given the opportunity to give back to a place that changed my life, allowing me to influence the lives of other deserving children. I want to ensure that a high quality arts education is rooted in C.S. 102, though all students throughout the city deserve access to the arts.
EW: Why did you think it was important to have such an extensive program at C.S. 102?
The programs goal is to infuse arts education and music instruction into the regular curricula while offering additional arts programming to students participating in after-school and Saturday programs. The program is run with the direction of Good Shepherd Services, which operates more than 70 programs in high-need communities throughout New York City, and allows students to develop their artistic talents through music, dance, theater, and visual arts programs.
EW: How has the arts program affected students academic performance and social growth?
Fields: The program at C.S. 102 not only impacts students and their learning, but it is designed to be interactive with the families. Making families a part of the program ensures its success. Parents work on exercises with children; they also have a measurement system so when their children come home from school, they know what they should be practicing after school.
We also have an interactive program for parents. Last semester, it was ballroom dancing. I remember watching one parent perform, and I actually thought she was the teacher. She was amazing and so graceful. Later on, I walked up to speak to her and was shocked to learn that she was a student in her own right, and had never danced before she took part in our program.
I had the opportunity to visit C.S. 102 earlier this year and see the students in action at the Arts Academy during their Works in Progress show. Seeing first-hand the hard work and commitment to learning new methods makes every dollar that goes into this program worth it.
Weve learned that you must bring families and community into the school. When you do that, you have a successful program. I met another mother at this show whose son is in the program and he plays multiple instruments extremely well. He has the uncanny ability to pick up any instrument and master it. This mother went out and bought him every single instrument that he plays at school -- a huge financial undertaking on her part -- but she said the program has changed her sons life.
EW: Was there a teacher or teachers at C.S. 102 who particularly inspired or motivated you?
Fields: Out of all of my years in school, from elementary to college, I only remember three teachers. One of those was the music teacher at C.S. 102 who taught me to play the clarinet. Its remarkable that 50 years later I still remember Mrs. Cuna. She had a profound impact on my life. She gave me the instrument and encouragement, and it changed my world. [Editors Note: A number of years ago, Fields tried to locate Mrs. Cuna, but had no success.]
EW: What do you most want students to take away from the program?
Fields: The program gives students and their families a look at new opportunities, and a way to understand that the world is bigger than Taylor and Archer Streets. They see the world differently, learn new ways of thinking, and interact with one another in more positive ways.
Research shows that arts education helps all students develop more appreciation and understanding of the world around them. It is proven to develop well-rounded students with critical thinking skills. The arts have a measurable impact on at-risk youth in deterring delinquent behavior, while also increasing overall academic performance.
The school actually found some of the old instruments in the basement that had been sitting there for years. Our program enabled school personnel to refurbish those instruments, and now the children at the school are actually playing on the same instruments that alumni of the school played on years ago.
More than 500 children are now in this program, and our goal is to help expose them to the arts so they can create a better future for themselves. You never know what types of talents young children are blessed with. Without exposure to the arts, many students who have natural gifts for music, arts, or theater might never know it, and never explore those opportunities. Yet, fewer than one half of elementary schools in the New York City area offer dance, music, theater, and the visual arts programs; were trying to do our part to change that.
EW: What needs to be done at the national level to encourage the expansion of arts instruction in schools?
Fields: In order for arts education to expand and be successful in schools, you must have a city administration who supports the program. And you need a school administrator on site who understands the value of arts education. We are so lucky that the team at Good Shepherd Services helped facilitate this program.
Cities across the country can follow New York Citys lead. In 2007, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and school Chancellor Joel Klein announced ArtsCount, a set of strategies geared to enhance arts education in New York City public schools. ArtsCount builds upon the Blueprints for Teaching and Learning in the Arts, which provide common benchmarks and curriculum goals for dance, music, theater, and visual arts. School districts across the country should adopt similar goals for their schools.
Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have ramped up the citys efforts to infuse arts into New York City public schools, but the pressure is on all of us -- our schools, arts education advocates, business leaders -- to seize opportunities for partnerships that can build the type of successful communities that we all want to live in, and support our kids -- the future of this city.
I encourage business leaders and those who support the arts to find an arts organization in their community to support. Its a shame there are not more individuals utilizing their financial resources to increase the arts in their communities. Whether you give $100 or $1 million, we can make this happen. More than 100,000 nonprofit arts organizations programs across the country are working to improve the arts in our communities; however, nonprofit and governmental arts groups have faced funding gaps and budget shortfalls during the nations economic downturn. They shouldnt have to suffer, and I am committed to ensuring that young children today are afforded the same opportunities I had as a child.
This e-interview with Richard Fields is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.