I am a chemical engineer and materials scientist by training, and was very focused on engineering coursework as an undergraduate and graduate student at Stanford University. But I didn't get there solely on the back of a solid K-12 STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program. In fact, the admissions essay that got me in was about my experience as a leader in a performing arts subject, experience that has done far more for my career than the foundational STEM coursework did.
As we parents weigh the school choices that will help our children gain admission and succeed at top colleges and universities, we need to keep in mind that top schools look for more than just STEM grades. Where will our young technology leaders learn skills like taking the stage in front of 350 people to advocate for their big ideas? Designing creative marketing programs that will help tomorrow's innovations appeal to the masses? Having the discipline that is needed as part of a product development effort or large organization? These things all require the types of skills that the performing arts provide.
Having a solid performing arts program means starting kids well before high school. Strong high school programs need to be fed from the middle schools, and the middle schools need to be fed from the elementary schools. Investing in our middle school facilities to strengthen their programs means more kids with the instrumental, singing, dancing, design and acting skills that a strong, diverse high school program can use — making those programs that much better. And at a time when the cultural diversity of our community is under pressure from gentrification, strong arts programs are exactly what is needed to provide a platform to celebrate the cultural heritage — music, song, and dance — of our community.
This is the kind of thing that can set Mountain View apart from neighboring cities, and we need the facilities that can make it happen. We have the student interest: already, over 200 participate in the music programs at Crittenden Middle School alone.
Furthermore, it is unfortunate to see voices like Mountain View Whisman School District Trustee Steven Nelson type-casting the auditorium investments at Graham and Crittenden middle schools as "song and dance" projects. Auditoriums are not just for the performing arts. We had an auditorium at my middle school in Massachusetts. It was used for concerts, community group rehearsals, meetings, as well as academically-oriented presentations to the student body — the kind of things that were completely unsuitable for the school gyms, outdoor quads, or undersized Multi-Use Rooms that one finds at our Mountain View schools today.
Instead of taking the time and money to bus students over to the apparently-underutilized spaces at the high schools (let's all recognize that the logistical overhead makes that proposal a non-starter), I wonder what our science teachers could do if they had a place to bring local technology leaders (who might even be school parents) in to talk to the student body about their experiences, or give a presentation on the Next Big Thing to inspire them, at a time in their lives that is seeing great change and identity-formation?
Let's think bigger than the number of sinks in the science classrooms, and make the investments that will really take our middle schools to the next level.