Trailblazer for Arts in Education Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Trailblazer for Arts in Education Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Terry Peterson

Terry Peterson

On May 13, 2015, College of Charleston education fellow Terry Peterson will be recognized for lifetime achievement in the 2015 Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Awards for the Arts.

Presented annually by the South Carolina Arts Commission, the awards are the highest honor the state gives in the arts.

Peterson, an education policy expert with a doctorate in education statistics, is Senior Fellow for Pre-K to 16 Improvement and Partnerships in the College’s School of Education, Health and Human Performance.

The College Today recently caught up with Peterson to talk about his pioneering work and research in education and to get his take on the future of arts in education and afterschool learning.

Q: What does it mean to you to be recognized with a Verner Award?  

A: Receiving this lifetime achievement award has very special significance to me. The wonderful letters of recommendations that were sent to the Arts Commission on my behalf reminded me of the many successful education and arts education initiatives we all worked on together, that over the years have benefited hundreds of thousands of young people across South Carolina and millions across this great country. And the prestige of the prior winners of this lifetime award, such as Pat Conroy, Mary Jackson, John Jakes, Jonathan Green, and Philip Simmons, add important meaning for me.

Q: You have long been an advocate and reformer for arts in education, but you started out earlier in your career teaching chemistry. At what point did you begin to think more about the arts in education and what led to that becoming your focus? 

A: When our own children were in late elementary, middle and high school, I started to see how some of them and their friends really became much more motivated and inspired by their participation in the arts and music in school and in afterschool opportunities.

About the same time, I became the education director for the governor of South Carolina. In that role I visited many schools, researched many successful education innovations and began to observe that the growing body of evidence indicated the arts in education can make a positive difference in student motivation and attainment, as well as enrich the learning experiences going beyond a narrowing of the curriculum.

Then and now I still retain my interest in hands-on, experiential learning in science, but for some students, enriching arts opportunities are an important entry point to become and stay engaged in learning. A particular exciting new innovation in education, especially in afterschool and summers, is combining the best in arts in education with the best of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education, creating STEAM learning opportunities.

Q: You’ve worked with U.S. presidents, South Carolina governors and other national and state leaders. How have you seen the recognition of arts in education evolve over your career?

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“For some students, enriching arts opportunities are an important entry point to become and stay engaged in learning,” Peterson says.

A: During my career in education, I have seen the recognition of the importance of arts in education experience what almost seems like a roller coaster ride–going up, down and up again.  The early evidence of the importance and impact of the arts in education in the 1980’s and 1990’s started to put them into the core of education.  That is when the nationally recognized South Carolina Arts in Basic Curriculum (ABC) began, state grants were started to give local education and arts leaders opportunities to expand arts in learning, and the arts were added to the South Carolina Gifted and Talented program.  In the 1990’s at the national level, we were able to include the arts as a core subject, conducted the first ever National Assessment of Educational Progress, (NAEP) arts learning assessment and began the national Arts Education Partnership.

However then in first ten years of the 21st Century, there was a narrowing of the very purpose of public education and the curriculum to a very few subjects easily tested, which put pressure on schools to reduce the arts, projects stressing persistence and teamwork, physical fitness, etc.  Now in 2015 and especially in the past couple years, there is renewed interest in the importance of the arts and music in the school day to broaden the curriculum as well as integrating the arts into other subjects to more deeply engage students in learning and creativity.  Also there is a great deal of interest in expanding learning by including arts enrichment in afterschool and summer opportunities.

Q: Which leaders (besides you, of course) on the local, state, and national levels have been most influential in bringing attention and resources to this crucially important area of education?  

A: For almost 35 years, there has been a core group of dedicated South Carolina education, community and arts leaders from every corner of the state who have promoted this crucially important area of education while keeping it fresh and vibrant to fit the contemporary landscape of education.  They are too numerous to mention by name but all are very important, and many have been part of the Arts in Basic Curriculum (ABC) Program steering committee, workgroups and the ABC Schools.

Former S.C. Governor and former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley.

Former S.C. Governor and former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley.

Governor and U.S. Secretary of Education Dick Riley was and is an unparalleled education leader, but also a proponent of arts learning in the school day and in afterschool and summer opportunities in South Carolina and across America He has been key to bringing attention and resources to this crucial area of education.

Former First Lady and US Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton supported our national initiatives to expand access to arts education, to the arts and music in afterschool and summer programs and in integrating arts and science for a more complete education.

When visiting afterschool, summer and in school programs across America, I encounter some really innovative and successful “homegrown” education programs that engage all kinds of community artists and teachers in joint learning and integrated teaching methods that really engage students in learning and enrich the curriculum.  I find these innovative examples extremely motivating and they help me think of new ways to spur on and support their efforts.

Locally, Engaging Creative Minds, (ECM) a new tri-county area initiative, provides a cutting edge approach to integrating the arts across the curriculum during the school day as well as in their summer STEAM camp. In the summer of 2015, ECM will partner with Chucktown Squash, holding the six-week Summer STEAM camp on the College of Charleston campus. ECM was co-founded and is currently chaired by my wife, Scott Shanklin-Peterson, formerly CofC’s Arts Management Program Director.  Scott’s work in the arts and arts education now and over the past 40 years has been a terrific inspiration and sounding board for my work.

Learn more about the 2015 Summer STEAM Institute taking place at the College June 15 – July 24, 2015.

Q: You have been at the forefront in helping to establish many important pieces of legislation, agencies, committees and other bodies in the arenas of arts and afterschool learning. What efforts or achievements among these stand out to you and why?

A: For almost 50 years, I have been fortunate to have been involved with many clever and caring people at the local, state and national levels in education, arts in education and in afterschool and summer learning.  As a result, I have had the opportunity to help design or expand roughly 50 different k-12 and higher education initiatives. So it is difficult to pick “among these children.”

However, several of these stand out because of their long-term staying power and because of their cutting-edge nature.  Let me briefly describe them:

Professor Michael Hemphill helps ninth grader Jerry Manigault with homework.

Professor Michael Hemphill helps ninth grader Jerry Manigault with homework as part of Chucktown Squash, an after school program in which the College takes part.

At the state level, in South Carolina, the SC Education Improvement Act (EIA) of 1983 was recognized then as the most comprehensive education reform package of its time and this has been reconfirmed by several recent studies.  It still generates today over $600 million dollars per year for local public schools across the state and provides funding to many of the state’s innovative education programs. I had the rare privilege of helping support Governor Riley and hundreds of education, business, and legislative leaders in designing, passing and implementing this very successful education reform effort.

At the national level, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative of 1994 now provides 11,000 high poverty schools and neighborhoods to offer enriching and engaging afterschool and summer learning opportunities to almost 2 million struggling students through unique school-community-family collaboration and modest resources. Its success in part is due to a very positive and unusual partnership between the U.S. Department of Education and a growing number of state afterschool networks along with the C.S. Mott Foundation.  When I was chief Counselor to the US Secretary of Education, I helped developed those partnerships with the CS Mott Foundation and today the College of Charleston Foundation receives a grant from the CS Mott Foundation for a project that allows me to continue to provide technical assistance to local, states and national afterschool and summer learning initiatives, including the national Afterschool Alliance which I proudly chair.

Finally, four very important enduring task forces/organizations deserve special attention for their staying and convening powers through many different changes in state and federal leadership—the SC Arts Commission, SC Arts in Basic Curriculum Program steering committee, the SC Arts Alliance and the national Arts Education Partnership.  In bipartisan and nonpartisan ways they keep “pushing the envelope” for better arts in education learning by highlighting relevant research and best practices and regularly convene key leaders to expand their understanding of the value of the arts and arts in education.  I am proud to have helped support their progress along with Scott Shanklin-Peterson’s leadership.

Fran Welch, dean of the School of Education, Health and Human Performance

Fran Welch, dean of the School of Education, Health and Human Performance

Q: As Senior Education Fellow in the School of Education, Health and Human Performance, how do you interact with faculty and students at the College to share lessons and wisdom from your own career?

A: I share whatever limited wisdom I have acquired through small group meetings and guest lectures.  In several cases I have helped frame grant requests for outside funding.  I have done special presentations to outside groups meeting on or near the campus.  With Dean Welch and others in EHHP, we have hosted meetings for faculty and staff and community wide organizations about afterschool and summer learning.  I have helped inform several faculty and staff about some of the national afterschool organizations’ major conferences.

Most recently along with Dean Welch and her staff and with terrific support from President McConnell, we sponsored a day and a half of seminars with the most successful summer and afterschool leaders in America for interested faculty; local city, community, education and arts leaders; and about ten statewide leaders including our newly elected State Superintendent of Education and newly appointed chair of the State Board of Education.

Q: What does the future of arts in education and afterschool learning and enrichment look like? What is the role of institutions such as the College of Charleston?

Peterson served as executive editor of Expanding Minds and Opportunities: Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer Learning.

Peterson served as executive editor of the compendium Expanding Minds and Opportunities: Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer Learning.

A: Two years ago I served as executive editor of Expanding Minds and Opportunities: Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer Learning, a compendium of 70 articles written by almost 100 local, state and national leaders in education, afterschool, summer learning, city and state government officials as well as researchers and practionners.  This compendium is still very relevant today in defining the future of afterschool and summer learning and enrichment and including the arts in those efforts. One statement in the introduction captures the potential of both quality afterschool/summer learning and arts in education: “Well-designed, quality programs offered to students beyond the school day and year are prime vehicles for providing experiential, hands-on learning opportunities that are often difficult to offer within the constraints of the traditional school day and year.”

From the requests we receive for the compendium in hard copy and online, the future is bright for quality afterschool and summer learning if they are engaging, enriching and personalized. The hard copy is about to go into its 4th printing in two years and the free downloads of articles from the website are approaching 100,000.

Leaders and faculty in the School of Education and School of the Arts are increasingly involved in statewide and local efforts in arts in education and in afterschool and summer learning.  They are providing advice and technical assistance.  A number of CofC faculty and staff are involved in some cutting-edge local afterschool and summer learning projects, just to name a few—WINGS for Kids, Engaging Creative Minds, Chucktown Squash, TechFit and Carolina Studios.  There is room for a lot more involvement of faculty, staff and students in these efforts because the best programming offers a wide variety of learning opportunities in small groups with choice for the participants. Engaged and passionate staff and volunteers make a big difference in these programs.

Read an article about the School of the Arts receiving a 2015 Verner Award.
Verner Award recipients are presented with a bronze statue.

Verner Award recipients are presented with a bronze statue.

The need for quality afterschool and summer learning opportunities in and around Charleston is very large.  The Charleston County Schools are hoping to expand and improve the afterschool programs in many schools and are looking for reliable and experienced partners –perhaps a large number of CofC faculty, staff and students could be orchestrated to be a large-scale partner with them and others.

Also, the Center for Partnerships to Improve Education in EHHP is beginning to explore the potential of this area.

Q: Describe the ideal teacher-student relationship and learning environment?

A: Perhaps one of the best ways to describe the ideal teacher-student relationship and learning environment is to learn from local people when they explain why a classroom, school, afterschool or summer program is successful. Here are four important descriptors: “the students are always engaged,” “students give their best,” “the instruction and student supports are individualized for each student’s needs” and “families are actively involved and treated as partners.”

Read more about the Verner Awards at and their namesake at the S.C. Arts Commission website.