Essie painting
A painting of Ocracoke by Essie O’Neal.

By Connie Leinbach

Nancy Leach is so committed to children receiving art instruction during their school day that she recently launched a petition seeking to reinstate art.

“There are all facets of the mind,” Leach said in an interview, and art instruction helps children unlock them.

Leach’s efforts were prompted by her desire for the academic success of her kindergarten daughter, Essie.

Essie O'Neal speaks at the County Commissioner's meeting. Her mother, Nancy Leach with her. Photo by Peter Vankevich
Essie O’Neal speaks at the County Commissioner’s meeting. Her mother, Nancy Leach with her. Photo by Peter Vankevich

“I want her to have this opportunity to access this part of her personality during the school day, not after school,” Leach explained.  “Art is a just as important as the other subjects.”

Leach was one of a few parents who spoke up to the Hyde County Board of Education when, in October, the board approved an $11.38 million schools budget.

In the spring, the Ocracoke School art position and two teaching assistant positions were eliminated when the district learned that the Small School Supplemental Funding would be cut from the state education funding package, leaving the district without any formal arts education in both music and art.

But in July, the General Assembly restored $1.7 million for Small School Funding, which funds teacher salaries in rural schools throughout the state, though it was about $300,000 less than what Hyde County received in prior years.

The October budget approved by the school board restored two teachers’ aids positions (one for Ocracoke) and a part-time custodian for Ocracoke, but no other personnel.

More parents again voiced their concern in December upon learning that the elected Board of Education is requesting a raise for their monthly stipends. (To read that story, click here.

Leach, who has a master’s degree in painting and teaches art appreciation online for Beaufort County Community College, said she does not have her daughter in the after-school program where Ocracoke Alive has stepped up to provide art instruction.

“Essie doesn’t attend the after-school program because that’s too long of a day for her,” Leach said. “She should be getting it during the school day from 8 to 3.”

Her reason for starting the petition is to keep her voice heard that art is an integral part of education for all children.

“After attending those compelling meetings myself and speaking time after time, but not feeling heard, the petition seemed like the obvious next step,” she said. “I also understand that many of those people do not attend the compelling meetings where one has a chance to stand up and speak their mind.”

She noted the comments of people signing the petition.

“I have read the comments written by the people who have signed the petition, and I am both touched and impressed by the wisdom and soulfulness found there,” she said.

Contacted at his home, Hyde County School Board chairman Thomas Whitaker said he feels the parents’ frustration.

“For the last three years we’ve been struggling to get funds,” he said about the constant battle to retain the Small School Funding appropriated by the General Assembly to rural schools such as those in Hyde County.

The district has lost 20 positions, including two arts positions on the mainland and one on Ocracoke, he said.  One of those was his own son who lost his music teaching job in Hyde County schools.

“I love music and we are going back to the drawing board to see if we can get more money,” Whitaker said about the district’s efforts, adding that Hyde has been meeting with state Rep. Paul Tine and folks in Tyrell County, another rural county in Eastern North Carolina.

He stressed that school funding is controlled by the state Legislature and encouraged residents to contact their representatives to better fund rural schools.

“I know people on the island and mainland are angry, and it’s been rough, but I hope we can all get together and work together on this,” he said.

The following is the text of Leach’s petition:
The community of Ocracoke is filled with artists and those who appreciate art, and a large number of the visitors to our island either come to enjoy our artistic community, or leave with a deep appreciation of it. Beyond our strong ‘feelings’ that art be reinstated at Ocracoke School, there are compelling facts to indicate that art is an integral part of any pre-K to 12 education. A study by Stanford University and Carnegie Foundation For the Advancement of Teaching indicates that young people who participate in the arts are:
*4 times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement
*3 times more likely to be elected to class office within their schools
*4 times more likely to participate in a math and science fair
*3 times more likely to win an award for school attendance
*Participate in youth groups nearly four times as frequently
*Read for pleasure nearly twice as often
*Perform community service more than four times as often

Furthermore, studies of the arts leads to increased awareness of self (mind, body, and voice) and others (collaboration and empathy), improved clarity and creativity in communication of verbal and nonverbal ideas, and to understanding of human behavior, motivation, diversity, culture, and history. We, the signers of this petition, are interested in all of these things for the children who attend Ocracoke School. Please reinstate our art class.

To view the petition online, click here.

In November, the Ocracoke Observer published an editorial on this issue.

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  1. Ocracoke Alive is actually holding art classes during the school day, as part of our children’s curriculum. This is another example of local volunteers stepping in to provide services that our governing bodies have neglected to provide us. Thank you Ocracoke Alive! … but they shouldn’t have to do that.

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